Electronic health record errors on the rise

The change from paper records to electronic health records in doctors’ offices was intended to make it easier for doctors in Illinois and throughout the entire country to access patient records and to record information from patient visits. Those are the intended benefits. However, the use of EHRs shows high incidents of errors, with the number of errors rising significantly in recent years.

Considering that medical professionals want to avoid medical errors, changes are needed to reduce incidents of EHR errors. Although there were about 3,100 incidents of EHR errors reported over a seven-year time span from one study, only 16 resulted in some sort of patient harm and only one incident resulted in serious harm. That incident involved a patient who was documented as allergic to penicillin but was given the drug regardless of his allergy to it. The allergy was noted in a free-text section of the patient’s medical record; however, it should have been entered in the field set aside for listing drug allergies.

As such, the system did not prevent the ordering of the drug for the patient, who subsequently went into anaphylactic shock. The patient survived, though the incident was an avoidable one.

Of the EHR errors reported in the study, 47 percent were due to incorrect input by health professionals while 18 percent were due to failing to update EHRs with patient data from paper records and other medical forms. About 30 percent of the incidents involved problems resulting from devices being down or unavailable.

One physician claims the complexity of the EHR system is a substantial problem. According to the physician, there are numerous things that can go wrong that may not be rightly recognized as an error by the system as opposed to medical staff.

When visiting with your doctor, you may trust that your doctor is properly documenting your health conditions and other pertinent medical information. If at any time you think that your doctor has forgotten to add something to your record, you should feel comfortable asking your doctor about what he or she has noted in your file. An accurate medical record may help to prevent a serious medical error down the road.

Source: American Medical News, “EHR-related errors soar but few harm patients,” Kevin B. O’Reilly, Jan. 14, 2013

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