Objective: Prescribing errors are a major cause of iatrogenic patient morbidity and therefore interventions aimed at preventing the adverse outcomes of these errors are likely to result in cost reduction. However, it is unclear whether the costs associated with these preventive measures are outweighed by the cost reductions (benefits). Therefore, a study was set up to analyse costs and benefits of detecting prescribing errors by hospital pharmacy staff.
Design: During 5 consecutive days in two Dutch hospitals in February 2000 all medication orders, in which prescribing errors were detected, were analysed. A cost-benefit analysis was performed, based on direct medical costs only. The benefit-to-cost ratio was calculated by taking into account the net time hospital pharmacy staff needed for the prevention of the error (this included potential time saving for nursing staff, when an error was prevented by hospital pharmacy staff instead of nursing staff), as well as taking into account the possible consequences of the prescribing error (were the error not prevented).
Results: A total of 3540 orders, of which 351 contained prescribing errors (9.9%), were analysed. During the 1-week period investigated, time-investment of the pharmacy staff had net costs of EUR285 (2000 values). During the same period estimated benefits related to this investment were EUR9867. The finding of higher benefits than costs was robust in sensitivity analysis.
Conclusions: From this study it can be concluded that prevention of prescribing errors by hospital pharmacy staff results in higher benefits than the costs related to the net time investment.