UK General Medical Council’s solution for reducing prescription errors? More usable, better designed forms

The BBC News today has a great example of the impact procedures documents and usable forms can have upon people’s lives. It reports the General Medical Council is is calling for a UK-wide standard prescription chart as the best way to reduce the 9% of hospital prescriptions that contain a mistake. Against common opinion, the study found it wasn’t  doctors fresh out of medical school who were making the most mistakes – the causes were mostly down to poor forms and bad handwriting.  

The chairman of the GMC, Professor Peter Rubin, said:

 “Prescribing decisions in a hospital setting often have to be made quickly, so it is important that a procedure is as simple as possible to minimise the chance of an error being made.

To avoid confusion as doctors move between hospitals with very different prescribing forms – including paper and electronic – the GMC wants to see a standardised system across the UK.

A Department of Health spokesman said it would continue to look into the benefits of electronic prescribing systems,

 “taking into account the evidence gained where standardisation of the paper chart has been successfully implemented.”

Dr Hamish Meldrum, of the doctors’ union, the BMA, said:

“It would certainly help if there was greater uniformity in the prescription forms used in the NHS and the BMA would encourage prescribing procedures to be kept as simple as possible.”

 It’s good to see recognition, in such an important area, of the value of good procedures writing and form design.

One Comment


I’d like to see that in the US, too. Some retail pharmacies have recently started providing fold-out Rx labels with instructions in larger fonts so that they are easier for the elderly to read. There was also an incident a few months ago where adult infusion bags were accidentally used for children in one US hospital because the labels were not sufficiently distintive for the nursing or pharmacy staff to tell the adult and pediatric versions of the drug apart. Prescription mistakes no doubt contribute to poorer outcomes and extended hospital stays on both sides of the Atlantic.

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