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As EHR use grows, new patient safety risks identified

Connected coverage — selected articles on trends, challenges and controversies in the changing world of medicine.

Posted Feb. 25, 2013

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Electronic health records generally have been promoted as a positive for physicians and patients. But as EHRs become more common, unexpected glitches and issues that can affect the delivery of care become more apparent.

American Medical News has reported on what is causing these errors, and how physicians and others are trying to eliminate and mitigate them. Often the problem stems from wrong or incomplete information typed into the system. But sometimes the situation, exacerbated by human error, comes from characteristics of EHRs themselves.

EHRs: “Sloppy and paste” endures despite patient safety risk

Copying and pasting text within an EHR is endemic, as the technique often is used to save time in data entry. However, there are worries that, too frequently, copy-and-paste is done with little care and can end up creating inaccurate notes that could inadvertently lead to patient harm. There is consensus that copy-and-paste has its place, but the question is when it is appropriate, and how to ensure it doesn’t lead to treatment mistakes.

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EHR-related errors soar but few harm patients

In one state, the number of reported errors due to hospital EHRs more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, the latest information available. Few, though, resulted in patient harm. Still, the results worry safety officials, who want to figure out how to reduce common problems such an incorrect input; missing, incorrect or lost data; display problems; and alert failures, which were among the most common reasons for errors.

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More complex EHRs can result in declines of quality measures

Dartmouth College researchers found that the installation of EHRs can help patient safety. But it said the risks to patients increased when the systems became more complex. However, another study by a health technology group found no risk when EHRs were installed, and it surmises that the problems found in the Dartmouth study were temporary and related to the transition to new, more difficult EHRs.

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