Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification of features of electronic prescribing systems to support quality and safety in primary care using a modified Delphi process

Michelle Sweidan1*, Margaret Williamson1, James F Reeve1, Ken Harvey2, Jennifer A O'Neill3, Peter Schattner4 and Teri Snowdon5

Author Affiliations

1 National Prescribing Service Ltd, Level 7, 418A Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010, Australia

2 School of Public Health, LaTrobe University, Bundoora VIC 3086, Australia

3 Medical Software Industry Association Inc, PO Box 1293, Wahroonga NSW 2076, Australia

4 Department of General Practice, School of Primary Health Care, Monash University, Notting Hill VIC 3168, Australia

5 Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 1 Palmerston Cres, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:21  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-21

Published: 15 April 2010



Electronic prescribing is increasingly being used in primary care and in hospitals. Studies on the effects of e-prescribing systems have found evidence for both benefit and harm. The aim of this study was to identify features of e-prescribing software systems that support patient safety and quality of care and that are useful to the clinician and the patient, with a focus on improving the quality use of medicines.


Software features were identified by a literature review, key informants and an expert group. A modified Delphi process was used with a 12-member multidisciplinary expert group to reach consensus on the expected impact of the features in four domains: patient safety, quality of care, usefulness to the clinician and usefulness to the patient. The setting was electronic prescribing in general practice in Australia.


A list of 114 software features was developed. Most of the features relate to the recording and use of patient data, the medication selection process, prescribing decision support, monitoring drug therapy and clinical reports. The expert group rated 78 of the features (68%) as likely to have a high positive impact in at least one domain, 36 features (32%) as medium impact, and none as low or negative impact. Twenty seven features were rated as high positive impact across 3 or 4 domains including patient safety and quality of care. Ten features were considered "aspirational" because of a lack of agreed standards and/or suitable knowledge bases.


This study defines features of e-prescribing software systems that are expected to support safety and quality, especially in relation to prescribing and use of medicines in general practice. The features could be used to develop software standards, and could be adapted if necessary for use in other settings and countries.