How Electronic Health Records Can Lead to Serious Medical Errors

EHR pixlr

It appears that technology meant to make health care more efficient may actually be leading to serious medical errors that harms patients.

Electronic health records are now widely used in St. Louis hospitals and those across the United States.  They are the hi-tech version of a patient’s traditional paper charts.  They include all important medical history information, including treatment plans, previous diagnoses, medication records, and more.

At least they should, but they often don’t.

EHRs are widely used in medicine today because of a 2009 federal rule encouraging their use.  However, the rule opened up competition between numerous vendors, all with their own competing software.

The result?  EHRs can’t always “talk” with one another, meaning that important health treatment details or orders can be missed or misinterpreted.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits and EHR Problems

A common type of medical mistake related to EHRs is a medication error. Coverys, a medical malpractice insurance provider, found that medical malpractice lawsuits relating to electronic health record mistakes in general have grown every year since 2013.

Earlier this year Kaiser Health News documented problems with medical EHRs (“Death By 1,000 Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong”), noting that many have led to patient deaths.  The errors involve problems with software, user errors, and others that were avoidable.

Kaiser Health News reported that hospitals often refuse to turn over patient records when a serious error occurs, potentially hiding the reason for the error from victims and their families. Companies that make EHRs also often seek to conceal any problems with their products by including gag clauses in contracts that prohibit users from going public with safety concerns.

A new study points to the growing use of EHRs as a contributing source for another cause of medical mistakes: physician burnout.

Electronic Health Records Can Cause Physician Burnout

Published this month online by Health Affairs, the study (“Physicians’ Well-Being Linked To In-Basket Messages Generated By Algorithms In Electronic Health Records”) found a link between EHRs and the mental health of care providers.  Researchers documented that of the 934 physicians surveyed, 36 percent reported being burned out.

One significant flash point for the burnout was the time spent dealing with electronic health records.  Specifically, about half of the incoming messages the physicians had to deal with every week were generated by EHRs.  And 45 percent of doctors who received more than the average amount of EHR messages reported burnout symptoms.

The World Health Organization earlier this year published a new definition of physician burnout that included: "Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy."

It’s not hard, then, to understand how physician burnout can lead to a substandard level of care and dangerous, preventable errors.

If you lost a loved one to what you believe was an error in treatment and substandard care, turn to an attorney who handles medical malpractice lawsuits to fully investigate your suspicions.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Blog July 18, 2019


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