E-records may not be what they are cracked up to be

Insurance companies and medical practitioners tout e-records as being the solution to medical mistakes. That is not always the case.

Quality health care is something that Americans expect when they see a doctor, go for tests, or go to hospital for a procedure. They go see a medical professional with the attitude that the doctor will help them and take care of what ails them. In most instances, this is exactly what happens. In other cases, the train goes off the tracks and something bad happens. One way to reduce the chance of hospital errors, or medical malpractice is, supposedly, electronic health records —- often referred to as a saving grace for busy doctors and other staff. It appears that assumption is not correct.

According to a revealing report, published by Health Leaders Media, even though e-records do have the potential to up the quality of care, there appear to be some serious issues involved in using them, some of which may still cost a patient their life. Some of the mistakes included the software misinterpreting midnight to be noon, meaning that in one instance, a baby got a needed antibiotic a day late, and in another case, the computer truncated a dosage field for morphine for a patient, resulting in respiratory arrest. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as during that study, there were 171 mistakes that led to direct harm or death for patients at the 39 hospitals participating in the nine week study.

Medical error or computer error? Hard to differentiate on the face of things, as humans input the information into the system, but it should be pointed out that even if a doctor or other medical professional is relying on software to prescribe and track patients, they should still double check that patient orders are being followed to the letter. The other startling issue to note, brought to the attention of the media by the research director, is that the study asked for voluntary reporting of errors. Extrapolate the results for reported errors and the conclusion is that medical mistakes are seriously underreported.

Further shocking news came when the results were closely studied to see how the errors happened. It turned out at least 46 percent of the mistakes were caused by humans. Since many American hospitals, including Cincinnati’s hospital system, are implementing some form of e-records to track patients, the high rate of human and software problems are a major concern. It is rumored the system hopes to get $75 million from the federal government —- an incentive for using e-records.

As with any new computer program, there are glitches and a learning curve for those using it. That is understood. However, a hospital is not the place to experiment with patients lives. People go there to get well, not leave in a coffin or go home in a wheelchair. If a new e-record keeping system is to be implemented in a hospital, the utmost care must be taken that it works to help and support patients.

From the outside looking in, if a patient was seriously harmed or killed as a result of a mess up with e-records, a case could be made that the hospital was negligent in training people on the system, and that the software developer was negligent in testing the system for bugs.

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