Effort to cut medication errors gets funds Independence Blue Cross has committed $750,000 to a program to help 65 Southeastern Pa. hospitals.

Posted: February 11, 2003

Independence Blue Cross, which has long been at odds with local hospitals over its payment policies, committed $750,000 yesterday to fund a regional effort aimed at reducing medication mistakes in hospitals.

The grant will complete funding for the $1.3 million Regional Medication Safety Program for Hospitals, which began in June 2001 but had lacked the money to complete its three-year mission. The program, which provides 65 hospitals in Southeastern Pennsylvania with education and training on reducing errors, is being led by the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, the hospital lobbying group that has sparred with Independence in the past.

Executives for Independence and the hospital council called the contribution a way to cooperate more and focus on quality improvement.

G. Fred DiBona, Independence's chief executive officer, called the regional medication safety program "one of the best in the country." He said it should help hospitals assess the need for further improvements.

The council's program director, Richard Centafont, said its team of experts had visited 13 facilities and planned to reach the remaining hospitals by 2004. The council's team includes specialists from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Huntingdon Valley and ECRI, a health research group in Plymouth Meeting.

The goal is to help hospitals achieve 16 safety goals, such as preparing for computerized prescribing. Medication mistakes are widely considered the most common errors in hospitals. About 7,000 people are thought to die each year from medication errors, according to research cited by the Institute of Medicine.

Many experts tout computerized prescribing as a potential solution, because it would use computers to verify each dose and check a patient's other medications for potential drug interactions. But those systems start at $3 million and can rise to many times that amount in large hospitals.

About 5 percent of hospitals nationwide have such systems, and many executives are afraid of getting too far out ahead. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles suspended its computerized prescribing effort last month, citing doctors' complaints that the system was too time-consuming. Executives promised to try again.

"This is just beginning to blossom," said Matt Fricker, a manager at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. "The systems are evolving."

Executives here are keen to avoid such misfires and to develop other improvement efforts. Independence chief medical officer I. Steven Udvarhelyi said the insurer had developed a Quality Incentive Payment System that pays hospitals up to 4 percent of their Blue Cross reimbursements for improving a series of quality indicators, such as nurse staffing levels and hospital readmissions.

The program is working in 15 hospitals, and more will be adopting the system as contracts are renegotiated, Udvarhelyi said.

Contact staff writer Karl Stark

at 215-854-5363 or kstark@phillynews.com.

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