Badly designed electronic health records can lead to errors

A new study says that poorly designed electronic health records can lead to unique medical errors.

There has been a big push in recent years to digitize health records at hospitals and doctors' offices across the country. Advocates of electronic health records (EHRs) say that digitizing health records has a number of benefits, including portability, less paperwork, and a reduction in medical errors and patient harm. While many of these claims are true to a point, critics warn that the rapid push to EHRs has also led to patient harm and an overreliance on digitized records. One recent study, for example, found that poorly designed EHR interfaces can lead to their own medical errors.

Software problems create new errors

As The Verge reports, the study looked at 2 million reports of self-reported medical errors from clinics in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region. Researchers identified 557 reports that explicitly blamed a problem with an EHR for putting patients in harm's way. While that number may sound low, the researchers say that it is almost certainly an underestimate. They point out that only self-reported errors were included and only from one region of the country. A nationwide study of all medical errors would likely find a higher share of EHR-related errors.

Furthermore, researchers only included reports that explicitly named one of the top five EHR vendors. However, even if EHR software is not mentioned in a report, it is still possible that a problem with the software contributed to an error.

How EHRs can be dangerous

While the researchers did say that there is proof that EHRs do help reduce some medical errors, they can also help create new ones. As CNBC reports, medical errors are estimated to be the third-leading cause of death in the United States, a problem that EHRs are meant to address. However, clunky and difficult-to-use software is a culprit in creating new medical errors.

For example, the researchers point to one case where a clinician was able to record a child's weight in kilograms instead of pounds. That could easily have led to confusion whereby the child could have been given a much larger dose than was safe.

Another common problem was that EHRs often failed to alert doctors about patients' allergies to medications. While EHRs are supposed to alert doctors about such allergies, the alerts often either don't work or they are too unclear to be helpful. Many doctors also complain that having to spend so much time inputting data and dealing with prompts eats into their time with patients, which further increases the chances of a mistake happening.

Medical malpractice law

Patients who may have been harmed by a medical professional's alleged negligence should contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. As the above article shows, medical errors are far more common that many healthcare providers would like to admit. A medical malpractice attorney can help injured patients seek the compensation they may be entitled to and represent them in what are often highly complex claims.