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The Status of Medical Errors Among Health IT Systems

Report calls for improved interoperability

While the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information technology (IT) systems has been stressed among federal agencies and the medical industry in order to improve patient care and health outcomes, some issues within the health IT sector may be leading to medical errors among health care staff, according to a report from EHR Intelligence.

In a survey from the West Health Institute, approximately 50% of polled nurses noticed a medical error because a device or EHR system was not integrated adequately within the hospital or practice. The lack of EHR interoperability or integration may make it more difficult for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to provide effective care and avoid medical errors, the report says.

For example, if at the end of a long shift, a professional has to spend an additional 2 hours entering data through an EHR or other system, he or she is more likely to make a mistake. In fact, 74% of respondents in the survey claimed that it was troublesome to coordinate data stored in a variety of medical devices.

Another poll of 1,224 Massachusetts residents conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that 23% of respondents or their close acquaintances were involved in circumstances that led to a preventable medical error, according to the National Law Review. About half of these medical errors led to serious health consequences, the poll showed.

The most common problem was misdiagnosis of a medical condition. Most people polled in the survey did not seek data on patient safety at the medical facility they chose. In addition, 35% of polled Massachusetts residents believed that medical errors are a serious threat in the state.

One medical error that took place at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital led to the death of a baby that was born prematurely, the Chicago Tribune reported. A pharmacy technician entered the wrong data in an existing field on his computer screen when prescribing nutritional fluids to Genesis Burkett, an infant born 16 weeks early.

The error led to automated medical technology preparing an intravenous solution that had 60 times more sodium chloride than was ordered by the physician. When the prescription was given to the baby, his heart stopped. This shows how a medical error when using health IT systems can have grave results, the report from EHR Intelligence notes.

“[These] technologies can be enormously helpful, but what is emerging is that when implemented poorly, they can be harmful,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Greater EHR interoperability, device integration, and health data sharing could potentially lead to fewer medical errors within the health care community, the report says. The survey from West Health Institute also found that polled nurses preferred medical devices that were better-coordinated and EHR systems that were capable of interoperability. The seamless sharing of data is being called for by many medical professionals.

“To some degree these systems talk to each other, but mostly they don’t, so hospitals have to design custom-made software ‘bridges’ to make this happen,” said Dr. Ross Koppel, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Sources: EHR Intelligence; April 22, 2015; National Law Review; April 13, 2015; and Chicago Tribune; June 27, 2011.


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