When you go to the doctor, you may notice that he or she uses a computer
with programming that gives him or her information on the medications
you take or other important patient information. One job of that programming
is to warn the doctor about certain issues that could arise during treatment.
For instance, if you’re already on an antidepressant drug, the computer
might remind the doctor to tell you not to drink with it, since two depressants
can increase the effects. Or, the machine might indicate if a drug the
doctor is prescribing would counteract another drug’s effects.

When talking about it this way, the system seems good. It does a lot of
the footwork for doctors, so they can rely on the alerts telling them
if there is an issue with their orders. The problem is that many systems
provide alerts all the time, and doctors or medical providers can get
used to seeing them. Those who see too many false alerts might start disregarding
alerts altogether, which could pose a threat to patients.

A recent study reported that medical errors could be the third leading
cause of death in the United States, leading to around 250,000 deaths
each year. Point-of-care warnings, the warnings provided by the software,
could help, but only if the alerts are accurate. Popping up too often
makes physicians less likely to pay attention, and that’s a risk
for patients.

Only clinically significant reports should be popping up with a patient’s
treatment plan to help prevent doctors from becoming too complacent. As
a patient, if you notice an alert pop up, it’s okay to question
it if it seems your doctor didn’t. Asking questions could help you
protect your own safety, just as these programs are intended to. If a
doctor disregards an important alert and causes you an injury, then you
could have a case for malpractice.