Errors and electronic prescribing: A controlled laboratory study to examine task complexity and interruption effects

Farah Magrabi*, Simon Y W Li, Richard O. Day, Enrico Coiera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To examine the effect of interruptions and task complexity on error rates when prescribing with computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems, and to categorize the types of prescribing errors. Design: Two within-subject factors: task complexity (complex vs simple) and interruption (interruption vs no interruption). Thirty-two hospital doctors used a CPOE system in a computer laboratory to complete four prescribing tasks, half of which were interrupted using a counterbalanced design. Measurements: Types of prescribing errors, error rate, resumption lag, and task completion time. Results: Errors in creating and updating electronic medication charts that were measured included failure to enter allergy information; selection of incorrect medication, dose, route, formulation, or frequency of administration from lists and drop-down menus presented by the CPOE system; incorrect entry or omission in entering administration times, start date, and free-text qualifiers; and omissions in prescribing and ceasing medications. When errors occurred, the error rates across the four prescribing tasks ranged from 0.5% (1 incorrect medication selected out of 192 chances for selecting a medication or error opportunities) to 16% (5 failures to enter allergy information out of 32 error opportunities). Any impact of interruptions on prescribing error rates and task completion times was not detected in our experiment. However, complex tasks took significantly longer to complete (F(1, 27)=137.9; p<0.001) and when execution was interrupted they required almost three times longer to resume compared to simple tasks (resumption lag complex=9.6 seconds, SD=5.6; resumption lag simple=3.4 seconds, SD=1.7; t(28)=6.186; p<0.001). Conclusion: Most electronic prescribing errors found in this study could be described as slips in using the CPOE system to create and update electronic medication charts. Cues available within the user interface may have aided resumption of interrupted tasks making CPOE systems robust to some interruption effects. Further experiments are required to rule out any effect interruption might have on CPOE error rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-583
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Medical Informatics Association
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010
Externally publishedYes


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