Letter of the week: Who is legally responsible if patient overdoses due to mislabelling?

I refer to the report on mislabelled medicine (800 patients given mislabelled drug dosages, double the earlier estimate; Sept 6).

According to the report, labelling mistakes occurred on Sept 1.

When a doctor complained about the glitch, the system operator told him it was his clinic's fault for not checking.

Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), the government IT company that runs GPConnect, eventually admitted the error and informed most of the affected clinics by Sept 2. By then, more than 800 patients were affected.

IHiS is the company that will eventually run the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) system, when it is enacted into law.

IHiS should take this mistake seriously and make adjustments for the future.

First, prompt action can only be taken if IHiS takes all feedback and complaints from clinics seriously.

Dismissing a complaint from a clinic will lead to the propagation of an error.

Second, rather than waiting for clinics to point out errors, IHiS should do regular audits on their programs to discover unknown bugs.

Third, the Ministry of Health (MOH) ought to spell out the legal responsibilities of all parties involved in the NEHR.

If a patient overdoses on medication due to a software error like this, the patient could take legal action against the clinic for negligence.

Will IHiS or MOH shoulder part of the blame if the primary error occurs due to IHiS?

Also, if affected clinics have to call all their patients and inform them of errors, will IHiS provide resources like manpower to help with the process?

Last, no clinic management system, including NEHR, is flawless.

Clinic staff, medical doctors, pharmacists and patients should all be vigilant about potential mistakes.

Important documents like prescriptions, medical certificates and medicine labels should be manually checked too.

Desmond Wai (Dr)