Use of computerized provider order entry helped hospitals cut down on more than 17 million medication errors in one year, according to a recently released study. But it’s still unclear whether that massive reduction led to reduced harm to patients.

Drawing on data and surveys collected between 2006 and 2008, the study found that computerized orders dropped the likelihood of an error by 48 percent, and medication errors overall by 12.5 percent. Mayo Clinic researchers, and others, contend that medication errors harm more than 1 million people a year, and that most instances are preventable.

The article, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, urges policymakers to continue to push for more widespread CPOE adoption. Each successive stage of meaningful use regulations has increased the percentage of orders that must be made via an electronic ordering system.

Here are some other findings from the study, which was analyzed data from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Hospital Association:

  • About 34 percent of acute-care hospitals adopted CPOE systems in 2008. At 56 percent, larger hospitals (400 beds plus) were more likely to have a system in place.
  • Medium and smaller hospitals were much slower to use CPOE that year, at 35 percent and 30 percent respectively.
  • Urban hospitals were more likely to use their keyboards to place orders (41 percent) than rurals (28 percent), and major teaching hospitals (53 percent) were more likely non-teaching (32 percent).