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Could Electronic Patient Records Generate Medical Errors?

The federal government is encouraging the modernization of the nation’s health care system through the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Bonuses were available for those who adopted the technology before 2015. For example, the Illinois EHR Medicaid Incentive Program provided financial benefits to eligible medical professionals and hospitals for adopting, upgrading or demonstrating meaningful use of certified technology.

The digital records consolidate patient data while reducing some of the potential for human error. Providers have access to the complete medical histories of patients, including prescriptions, test results and more. Unfortunately, this technology has a weak side of its own in the form of software glitches, which has led to cases of medical malpractice.

Error reporting is not required

The Department of Health and Human Services asked the Institute of Medicine to inspect the safety concerns of electronic health records. The final report stated that the investigators were not able to discover enough published evidence calculating risk levels associated with this technology. The contracts used by vendors discourage health care providers from making safety-related information available to outside entities. A medical malpractice attorney in Chicago can tell whether serious errors have been noted, including medication errors, delays in treatment and failure to detect illnesses.

In the case of one elderly woman, a heart drug included in her file disappeared, ultimately leading to her death. Other reports indicate that the learning curve is initially steep when a facility first adopts the technology, and the first few months may result in an increase in hospital mistakes. A prescription mix-up in a system implemented in a group of five hospitals may have affected 2,000 patients. This was attributed to a glitch in the software that generated medication instructions to patients being discharged.

Government regulation could reduce risks

EHRs have reduced some of the common medical errors they were intended to correct. A computerized prescription-ordering system helps prevent dangerous medication combinations by alerting doctors to patients’ current prescriptions, according to the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The troubling aspect of the adoption of digital records is in the method of error reporting, which is voluntary for doctors and hospitals. Although one software company encourages users to report any errors to the FDA, others are not as forthcoming. This is one reason some lawmakers believe government oversight is necessary.

The increased risk for patients while medical professionals and health care facilities struggle to get records into electronic systems have led to increased medical errors in many cases. Victims and family members who suffer due to this technology may be able to receive compensation for the medical and physical costs associated with the mistakes. A medical malpractice attorney in Chicago can provide legal advice on the best way to proceed.