Physicians, clinics, and hospitals extensively use electronic health records (EHR) systems. Patient’s information is entered into the system and their data is tracked and alerts and advice are occasionally provided. The promise is that healthcare will become more efficient and less expensive. It is also expected that these systems will have the potential to improve the quality of care received by patients by making their medical history available to every medical professional who treats them. However, the EHR systems are not flawless and medical professionals have reconfigured some of their workflows around them. This raises the question as to whether the technology makes healthcare safer or if it increases the opportunity for errors to occur.
When the government began incentivizing the use of EHRs in 2009, it was predicted that electronic records would improve safety by making medical charts legible and accessible. However, with their increased use medical errors linked to the automation of healthcare have begun it factor into medical malpractice lawsuits.
Lawsuits involving EHRs include a range of mistakes and information gaps. These mistakes include typos leading to medication errors, key words being dropped by voice-recognition software, doctor’s relying on incorrect records, and nurses’ misinterpreting dropdown menus. Discrepancies between what doctors and nurses see on the computer screen as compared to the printouts of the records increases the complexity as the printouts do not reflect the decision options that are offered on the medical staff’s screens through the dropdown menus, prompts, and alarms.
Whether EHRs make hospitals safer has yet to be determined as is their effect on malpractice insurance. How EHRs cause problems is difficult to diagnose due to the complex interaction of technology and medical practice. Errors will often stem from the way the program has been installed or the way doctors were trained to use the program. Additionally, EHRs show medical professionals thousands of alerts every month. The majority of these alerts are false alarms. The may result in many healthcare providers grow numb to them.
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