The Influence of the Structure and Culture of Medical Group Practices on Prescription Drug Errors

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Background: This project was designed to identify the magnitude of prescription drug errors in medical group practices and to explore the influence of the practice structure and culture on those error rates. Seventy-eight practices serving an upper Midwest managed care (Care Plus) plan during 2001 were included in the study. Methods: Using Care Plus claims data, prescription drug error rates were calculated at the enrollee level and then were aggregated to the group practice that each enrollee selected to provide and manage their care. Practice structure and culture data were obtained from surveys of the practices. Data were analyzed using multivariate regression. Results: Both the culture and the structure of these group practices appear to influence prescription drug error rates. Seeing more patients per clinic hour, more prescriptions per patient, and being cared for in a rural clinic were all strongly associated with more errors. Conversely, having a case manager program is strongly related to fewer errors in all of our analyses. The culture of the practices clearly influences error rates, but the findings are mixed. Practices with cohesive cultures have lower error rates but, contrary to our hypothesis, cultures that value physician autonomy and individuality also have lower error rates than those with a more organizational orientation. Our study supports the contention that there are a substantial number of prescription drug errors in the ambulatory care sector. Even by the strictest definition, there were about 13 errors per 100 prescriptions for Care Plus patients in these group practices during 2001. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the structure of medical group practices influences prescription drug error rates. In some cases, this appears to be a direct relationship, such as the effects of having a case manager program on fewer drug errors, but in other cases the effect appears to be indirect through the improvement of drug prescribing practices. An important aspect of this study is that it provides insights into the relationships of the structure and culture of medical group practices and prescription drug errors and provides direction for future research. Research focused on the factors influencing the high error rates in rural areas and how the interaction of practice structural and cultural attributes influence error rates would add important insights into our findings. For medical practice directors, our data show that they should focus on patient care coordination to reduce errors. Copyright © 2005 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


Lippincott Williams & Wilkins


Philadephia, PA

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Medical Care

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