Poorly Designed Health Records May Put Patients at Risk
May 12, 2018
Maryland’s MedStar non-profit healthcare system recently conducted a study on the safety and efficiency of electronic medical records in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region. Nearly 600 of the two million safety reports studied showed that a patient’s safety was compromised by problems in the electronic medical record system’s software. While the Electronic Health Records (EHR) are designed to improve the accessibility and access to a patient’s medical history and medications list, the software is proving to be frequently unreliable, and not very user-friendly.
EHRs have reduced the number of medication errors that were a persistent problem of the past, but the problems with the systems’ interfaces are hampering patient safety. Researchers in the study analyzed safety hazards that were reported by doctors and nurses in 571 clinics. They found that 84 percent of the problems created by the EHRs required intervention and close supervision of the patients affected. Fortunately, less than one percent of the problems with the EHRs resulted in life threatening situations.
EHR Problems and Solutions
The most common issues with the EHRs lie in the problems doctors and nurses face when inputting patient information. In one instance, a doctor entered a child’s weight in kilograms instead of pounds, which put the child at risk for serious medication dosage errors and potential side effects.
The electronic records are supposed to supply doctors and nurses with information related to medication allergies. However, in several cases, the alerts that are supposed to appear at the time the provider prescribes medication were either missing or indecipherable. Medication allergies can result in severe reactions and even death.
To help rectify the problems with the Electronic Health Records, patient portals are providing patients with access to their medical records from their own personal devices. Errors in information can be spotted and reported by the patient themselves, which in turn helps the doctor or healthcare facility provide quality healthcare. Apple’s iPhone Health app makes it easy for patients to access their medical records through their phone.
Unfortunately, this does not address when EHR data entry errors are made on the part of a doctor, nurse, hospital, or emergency room technician.
Conclusions and Future Considerations
The authors of the study concluded that even with the reported issues, electronic health records are easier to improve than old-fashioned, paper systems. Human error is greatest when trying to manage, organize, and interpret data that is entered by hand. Electronic data input is far more manageable and reliable overall.
Ongoing improvements to the electronic medical records, their interfaces and ease of usability, will make the systems more efficient and reliable.
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