A Rapid Shift to Electronic Medical Records Leads to Errors & Injuries

keyboard.jpgAs part of the Obama administration’s health care reform package, hospitals will be encouraged to shift from paper medical records to electronic records. So convinced is the administration about the efficacy of these electronic systems in preventing errors and reducing costs, that it has offered incentives to facilities that can speed up the process of shifting to electronic records. Unfortunately, the hurry to shift to an electronic system has been accompanied by poor staff training, computer glitches, and other factors that increase the risk of errors.

Last month, Huffington Post carried a report on how the shift to electronic medical records is being accompanied by increasing numbers of errors. According to data from the Food and Drug Administration, there have been scores of reports of adverse incidents resulting from the use of the electronic systems.

• In one case, staff missed the print on the computer screen, and as a result, dispensed a dosage that was 10 times higher, resulting in the patient suffering a heart attack.
• In another case, the system did not alert staff to the fact that a patient had been shifted from the intensive care unit to the ward. As a result, the staff remained unaware of the patient and his suffering, even as he went into seizures.

The Huffington Post Investigative Fund found approximately 237 adverse incident reports related to the use of electronic systems, but it is highly likely that these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Health professionals are only voluntarily required to provide error data to the FDA. The FDA itself is not adequately equipped to track errors occurring from the use of such technology.
It’s not just training issues that plague the shift to electronic records. Since December, the FDA has received 18 adverse incident reports involving one manufacturer who sells electronic record systems.

These reports involve problems with non user-friendly interfaces, hard-to-read computer screens, small font sizes, and other issues.

Everyone seems to agree that the shift to electronic record systems is ultimately good for patient safety. However, as Indiana medical malpractice lawyers, we believe that the move towards electronic records should be combined with the right kind of error-free technology, and specialized staff training to prevent the errors that the systems were designed to prevent in the first place.