Home E-Weekly July 1, 2014

Are Your Electronic Records a Patient Safety Risk?

Published: June 30, 2014

Ask anyone who's been through it: Implementing an electronic medical records system is not always a smooth process. Then consider this: The glitches that persist after the "go-live" date might be more than just annoying inconveniences. They might even put patients at risk.

For a study on patient safety issues arising from EMR systems, researchers reviewed 100 closed investigations of nearly 350 incidents — such as network outages or sudden failures of a system's clinical decision support applications — that occurred at federal Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals between 2009 and 2013.

The VA has played a pioneering role in the adoption of EMRs, having implemented its system 15 years ago. Even so, the researchers point out, the interaction between human users and evolving technology can easily spark errors.

About 70% of the reviewed investigations cited a combination of multiple technical issues (such as the system's software, hardware or user interface) and non-technical issues (such as user behavior, workflow demands or facility policies) as the root cause of the incidents.

EMR users' most commonly reported safety concerns included how the information is displayed, how the software has been upgraded or modified, and how data is transmitted between system components, say the researchers.

Their study, published online in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, warns facilities to establish risk assessment protocols to govern their electronic records systems and to prevent and detect potential risks to patient safety.

David Bernard

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