Health Care Technology

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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On the surface, getting a prescription filled seems pretty straightforward. A doctor writes the prescription, the patient takes it to a pharmacy, and the pharmacist fills it. At many points along the way, however, things can and do go wrong.

An Overloaded System

There are many reasons why errors occur in prescribing and dispensing medication. One of the main reasons is the sheer number of drugs; this number has grown by over 500 percent in the last 15 years. There are more than 17,000 trade and generic names for drugs marketed in North America.

In addition, drug labeling changes constantly. Codes for any one medication might vary from institution to institution, so there are no technical standards for drugs across the healthcare industry. Every month, thousands of pages of detailed drug information are issued in the United States. To add to this burden, an amazing number of drugs have look-alike names: Celebrex, Celexa, and Cerebyx, for example. Some drugs have names that are pronounced the same: Lamicel and Lamisil.

Packaging presents yet another area that encourages mistakes. Many drugs are distributed in containers that have similar shapes or color schemes. Poor lighting, interruptions, and noise and other distractions in a work environment create the possibility of errors. Finally, many institutions and work places have reduced budgets and staffs. The remaining employees may work longer hours or may be urged to be more productive. Health care technology will go a long way toward alleviating many of these problems in the current system.

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