Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order on Thursday creating a new Division of Patient Safety and proposed computerizing prescriptions to help prevent errors.
"If we're successful, our patient safety plan will save money because it will reduce the costs that come with treating medical errors," the governor stated in a written release. "But far more importantly, it will save lives."
Medical errors cost the lives of more than 4,000 Illinoisans each year, Blagojevich claimed.
The governor said he would like to see all of the state's doctors, hospitals, clinics and pharmacists adopt computerized prescription systems by 2011. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, such a system can reduce errors by 80 percent.
"If you think about it, it's not that surprising that mix-ups occur when it comes to prescribing and dispensing medicine," Blagojevich stated in the release. "Doctors are already famous for their bad handwriting. Add on top of that all of the medicines that look alike or sound alike but do very different things. So the fact that doctors sometimes prescribe medicine for one problem and the patient ends up taking medicine for another problem isn't that unusual. That's why I'm proposing that we enable every doctor, every medical provider in Illinois to prescribe medicine electronically. That means doctors will be able to see what other medications the patient is taking so there are no allergic reactions and no drug interactions, and then send the prescription to the patient's pharmacy electronically."
Marlin Weekley, a pharmacist from Metamora and president of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, said members of his profession have long advocated electronic prescribing, and have been working on the issue at the national level for several years. He said he was glad to hear that the governor supported the idea too, but wasn't sure what effect Thursday's announcement would have.
"The full promise of e-prescribing will only be realized when the national standard is set and accepted," Weekley said. "A governor of a particular state, I don't think, can set the national standard, but maybe they can help in ways that aren't clear to me at the moment. I just don't know what those are."
According to the governor's announcement, the new Division of Patient Safety, part of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, would make sure that providers in the state that already have electronic prescription systems and those that will adopt them in the future are meeting the same standards, and that those standards match with any federal standards that are adopted. The new division is also supposed to study the training and technology needs of providers who don't have computerized systems and research ways to address those needs.
Blagojevich's other medical safety proposals included standardizing medication practices and expanding the state's online physician and nursing home databases.
Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, said he had not seen the executive order on Thursday afternoon , so could not comment on the specific proposals.
"In general, we support efforts to improve patient safety," he said.
The Illinois State Medical Society did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.