Patients Can Be Harmed by Medical Technology Design and User Error

Problems with electronic health records – both in their design and how healthcare providers use them – can lead to serious medical errors.

Electronic health records have largely replaced patient paper charts.  The potential benefits of EHRs are clear: they are easily accessible by multiple professionals simultaneously; they can contain much more information than paper records; they can streamline care.

Now there are warning signs that these digital healthcare records also expose patients to serious and preventable harm.

Software Issues with Electronic Health Records

First, poorly designed electronic health records threaten patients, according to a Maryland-based healthcare system, which reviewed about 2 million patient adverse events between 2013 and 2016.  It found that a significant number of these patient threats were attributed to EHR software issues; poorly conceived formats for inputting information and relaying it to healthcare teams.

Doctors and nurses trained to rely on EHRs may not notice potential mistakes.  Examples uncovered in the study included instances when the EHR did not alert providers to potential patient allergies to certain prescribed medicines.

In separate, unrelated research, it was user error, not the EHR itself that jeopardized patients.

Released in February 2018, this study examined records of patients admitted to six intensive care units at a Boston hospital.  EHRs provide doctors and nurses recommendations for treatment options given patients’ specific conditions.  This research found that ICU healthcare providers often ignored these digital recommendations.  And such physician decisions weren’t always correct.

Physicians Override Medication Recommendations

Researchers identified nearly 2,500 such doctor “overrides” between July 2016 and April 2017.  These physician decisions largely involved matters of medication, from dosage amounts to interaction between several drugs to patient allergies.

Medication mistakes are a leading cause of serious medical errors in this country.  The wrong dosage, the wrong drug, and the wrong choice for drug delivery all can be catastrophic, even life threatening, for patients.

The majority of the physician overrides to EHR recommendations were found to be correct – about 82 percent.  However, when physicians made the wrong decision and ignored the EHR treatment recommendation, those mistakes in judgment hurt patients.  These wrong decisions were found six times more likely to lead to a serious medication error compared to appropriate overrides.

Technology innovation in healthcare is typically a good thing for patient care.  But as these issues with electronic health records indicate, technology must be used with utmost care or patients may be victimized.

If you lost a loved one or you suffered serious harm while under medical care and you suspect avoidable errors were the cause, consult an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.

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

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog April 11, 2018