Electronic medical records behind some Pennsylvania medication errors

More interconnected electronic health records may allow mistakes to travel farther through a patient’s record before detection than paper-based records. A mistake in medication dosage may not immediately be caught and could affect the diagnosis by a subsequent specialist or fail to properly treat a condition.

Lack of adequate training on usage of the new electronic systems can also cause
medication errors. A common example occurs when an allergy is placed in the wrong section of the EHR. Medical staff need to complete tasks quickly and may miss the allergy after a quick scan of that specific box. The patient risks an increased chance of an allergic reaction from misplaced information on an electronic form.

Possible cost savings and greater patient access, but at what cost?

Hospitals and clinics in Pennsylvania and across the country have invested billions in updating IT systems to accommodate electronic health records. EHRs may reduce costs and increase record portability for patients. However, health care providers have yet to realize the hoped for cost savings.

Electronic health records also do not reduce data input errors. A review by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority found that the electronic medical records were no less prone to mistakes than paper-based records and errors in electronic records spread more easily.

The study looked at Pennsylvania incidents from 2004 to 2012 where electronic health records caused the event. Of the reported incidents during that timeframe, 2,700 resulted in near misses and 15 involved harm to patients.

Of all the cases, the majority – approximately 80 percent – were
medication errors. Half the mistakes listed the wrong medication and about one third involved under dosing.

Connectivity spreads the error

Deadlines in the 2009 economic stimulus have forced health providers to hurry to implement new systems. The rush means some staff may not receive adequate training.

With more health information exchanges, records shared with a hospital pharmacy or different clinics transmit mistakes to a wider audience. Another problem noted in the study is the use of both paper and electronic systems at the same time. This may mean there are gaps with incomplete information in one or the other record.

William Marella, program director for the patient safety authority, sees EHRs as a smart choice for the future, but he said in the short term they “are seeing safety issues.” He gave an example of a technical glitch that prompted medication reports to appear on random patient records. The error was not caught until an erectile dysfunction drug appeared on a woman’s chart.

Making electronic systems smarter and easier may make it easier to catch mistakes. If a mistake with electronic records caused you harm because of a medication error, an medical malpractice attorney can discuss option and remedies. A lawsuit against a negligent health provider is one way to ensure that safety remains a top priority and the same thing does not happen to anyone else.