How Electronic Health Records Can Lead to Errors

Electronic health records (EHRs) are designed to replace traditional paper medical records for patients. The logic is simple: a database of the patient’s medical history, medication, allergies, and other pertinent information can be much more easily shared among providers, allowing for streamlined patient care. Digital records promise great advantages, including a reduction in paperwork, increased efficiency, the ability to access patient records at any time, and a subsequent reduction in mistakes and possible harm being done to patients.

Unfortunately, many practices forget that electronic health records are still just a tool, and as such are not only fallible but also prone to mistakes. A recent study showed that EHRs have put a number of patients at risk due to mistakes in digital record-keeping. “These risks came from all aspects of patient care, from prescribing to dispensing and administration,” confirms Attorney Scott Sandler, Miami-based personal injury lawyer. Another study in Pennsylvania found that up to 35% of incidents that caused patient harm stemming from EHR mistakes involved high-alert drugs such as opioids, insulin, and anticoagulants. While the actual number of these mistakes is relatively low, it does highlight the dangers of rapidly switching to digital records in the healthcare industry and the fundamental flaws of existing EHR systems.

What aspects of electronic records lead to these mistakes?

With a heavily-subsidized push towards electronic record-keeping, EHRs are here to stay. As such, the only way to make them safer and more reliable is to examine where they fail. One of the main issues that medical providers have with EHR systems is that they are clunky, difficult to use, and are usually not compatible with other EHR systems.

The main flaw of EHR lies within the design of the EHR software. For instance, many EHRs are supposed to alert doctors when a patient has allergies to certain drugs. These alerts should pop up when the doctor tries to prescribe the drug to the patient, but in many instances, the software either fails to do so, or the alerts are so badly utilized that their message is unclear. EHR design needs to be simple, clear, and present the necessary information the doctor needs at the appropriate time. Current EHR providers have been lax in meeting those requirements.

In a high-pressure environment, such as an emergency ward, having software that is difficult to navigate puts incredible pressure on nurses and doctors to both juggle their patients and fight the software. This has also led to many ERs developing their own cobbled-together software that may work for them but is incompatible with other EHR systems. Such incompatibilities can lead to data loss or mistakes in data entry and data recovery.

Ultimately, EHRs are the main interface between clinicians and patients, and they need to be designed with the needs of both parties in mind. Software developers need to be more cognizant of the environment in which medical practitioners work and design their software accordingly.

What solutions are available?

Many experienced clinicians are now on the lookout for common EHR errors and can usually spot them before they lead to patient harm. However, this is not a permanent solution, particularly in hospitals or practices with a high volume of patients.

Another proposed solution has been to give patients more control over their health records, allowing them to pick up any errors or oversights and correct them. This solution works well, given the patient-centric approach that many medical practices are adopting.

The main way to reduce EHR errors, however, is to address the fundamental design of EHRs, to ensure that they are easy to use and reliable.

Even though the medical industry is working to better the system, errors do indeed happen. If you have been the victim of medical malpractice due to errors in electronic health records or any other instance, contact a personal injury lawyer like Attorney Scott Sandler.

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