U.S. Pharmacist

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Technology Is a Double-Edged Sword

Harold E. Cohen, RPh
Editor-in-Chief



8/20/2009

US Pharm.
2009;34(8):3.

Technology is something to be embraced, not ignored. I believe the world is a far better place because of technology. The warp speed by which new technology is being implemented continues to transform just about everything we use today, from cars and medical equipment to cell phones and personal computers. But while it is hard to argue that technology has not made our day-to-day existence easier to handle, the technology revolution has also left its dirty handprint on the social and business fabric of those societies where it has flourished. Online businesses have cut deeply into the traffic and profits of more traditional brick-and-mortar stores; and in the medical field, robotic arms being used in surgical procedures have taken the place of a skilled surgeon’s hands. Even the U.S. Postal Service is considering reducing mail delivery to 5 days instead of 6 because of the increased use of e-mail. Kids growing up in a world of technology have forgotten what it is like to go outside and play with another child or pick up the phone and speak with someone. Instead, they would rather text-message or challenge their friends to online games. And probably the worse fallout of all this technology is that it has retarded the ability of people to think and make independent decisions. Nothing irritates me more than having a problem at the checkout counter of a store and hearing the salesperson tell me he or she can’t do something about it because “the computer won’t allow me to.” And if the power were to ever fail during a payment transaction at the cash register, sad to say that few people today could actually make change without the aid of an electronic cash register.

There is no question that technology has reshaped the profession of pharmacy on many levels. From preparing a medication, reviewing patient profiles, and checking drug interactions to adjudicating insurance forms, it almost seems that less time elapses than it takes to click a mouse. But even in the pharmacy, pharmacists are sometimes challenged by the overload of information that is provided by their computer systems. And a recent article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that doctors are not immune to these kinds of difficulties either.

According to researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, doctors often override electronic medication safety alerts and rely on their own judgment when prescribing drugs for their patients. The researchers followed the habits of nearly 3,000 physicians who submitted some 3.5 million electronic prescriptions over a 9-month period. Of those 3.5 million prescriptions, 233,537 produced a safety alert. Of those alerts, 98.6% were for a potential interaction with a drug already being taken by a patient. Delving further into the data, the investigators uncovered that doctors overrode more than 90% of the drug interaction alerts and 77% of the drug allergy alerts.

It is certainly important to embrace new technology, but it is equally important that pharmacists and other medical professionals never lose sight of their invaluable noncomputerized skills in handling professional situations. Relying solely on a computer is a prescription for disaster. Pharmacists should approach warnings given by their computer system with extreme caution. It is at that point that a pharmacist’s education should kick in and make the decision, not the computer. Now if you will excuse me, I have a bunch of e-mails to answer on my Blackberry.

To comment on this article, contact editor@uspharmacist.com.
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U.S. Pharmacist is a monthly journal dedicated to providing the nation's pharmacists with up-to-date, authoritative, peer-reviewed clinical articles relevant to contemporary pharmacy practice in a variety of settings, including community pharmacy, hospitals, managed care systems, ambulatory care clinics, home care organizations, long-term care facilities, industry and academia. The publication is also useful to pharmacy technicians, students, other health professionals and individuals interested in health management. Pharmacists licensed in the U.S. can earn Continuing Education credits through Postgraduate Healthcare Education, LLC, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) as a provider of continuing pharmacy education.

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