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Doctors Routinely Ignore Error Alerts, Study Says

A new study by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says when doctors prescribe drugs electronically, they ignore computer alerts about possible medication errors more than 75 percent of the time.

The report finds that doctors disregard the automatic alerts because they trust their own judgment more than the software. Saul Weingart of Dana-Farber says the problem is that the computers generate too many alerts, so doctors tune them out.

"Something called 'alert fatigue' occurs," says Weingart, the study's senior author. "They get so many alerts that they get habituated to them, and they don't pay attention to an important one. And that's really the hazard of this over-alerting phenomenon."

Weingart says a solution is to create smarter software that only alerts doctors to the most serious potential errors.

The study, which appears in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, tracked more than 2,800 doctors at outpatient clinics in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This program aired on February 11, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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