Ah, the Irony of EHRs…

Tense, frustrated physician Technology. It’s supposed to save us time, money, and make better decisions than us mere mortals to help prevent errors. It’s supposed to help physicians “do no harm” better. Funny thing, though, studies are starting to show that electronic health records (EHRs), the epitome of technology taking over to increase patient safety, are creating problems of their own. Real problems, with real consequences for patients.

A recent study, shared with AMedNews.com, from the ECRI Institute PSO, a patient safety organization, studied 171 different health IT-related incidents reported over a 9 week period. Eight of the problems resulted in patient harm and another three may have contributed to patients’ deaths. No small errors.

Overall, 29% of the errors were considered to be “general malfunctions.” These types of errors ranged from being unable to type more than a handful of characters into a comment box to being unable to scan medication labels. Almost 50% of errors had to do with data output or input errors –accidentally putting data into the wrong patient record, or pulling up the wrong patient record because of a lack of verification of the patient record. The remaining errors had to do with data transfer errors –for example, an order to stop a medication never making it to the pharmacy.

Thus, we are clearly seeing unintended consequences of EHRs and we now have a new kind of patient error. So, rather than reducing risk, we are actually seeing new kinds of risks emerging. Huh. Are we trading one kind of error for another? And, as we like to ask in these situations, who assumes the medical malpractice liability here? Because, as we all know, someone has to be blamed… Is it the treating physician/health care provider? The health care system who selected the EHR vendor? The EHR vendor themselves? We will be following this…

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