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Electronic health records do not solve hospital error issues

Advocates of the use of electronic health records contend that the digitalization of medical records can reduce hospital errors, but a recent study suggests that this may not be the case. The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority Report examined almost 3,100 error reports from hospitals in the state to determine if there were mistakes related to electronic records. They found that nearly 4,000 errors were related to EHRs between 2004 and 2012.

Most errors did not cause harm to patients, but 10 percent concerned unsafe conditions. Of the many reports reviewed, 15 involved temporary potential harmful situations for patients, such as erroneous medication data, failure to note allergies or failure to document test results. Problems were particularly noted in hospitals that used both paper and electronic records. The difficulty in using some electronic systems also contributed to errors.

Human error will always account for a certain percentage of problems in hospitals. Failure to document drug allergies, for example, could lead to a situation in which a patient is given a potentially life-threatening treatment without health care professionals being aware of the possible harm.

An attorney who handles hospital error injuries examines the medical records, both paper and electronic, of a patient with the patient's or family's permission. The lawyer then attempts to determine if the hospital error caused the injury experienced by the patient. If that is the case, the hospital and individual health care professionals may be liable for the damages from that injury, including increased medical costs, pain and suffering and loss of physical or cognitive function.

Source: Clinical Advisor, "EHRs not a cure-all for medical errors," Ann W. Latner, Dec. 18, 2012

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