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Electronic health records linked to medical errors

Electronics are intended to make life easier, but the transition to electronic health records has not been smooth for many health care facilities in Massachusetts and around the United States. Indeed, recent reports indicate that in some cases, the use of electronic records has increased the incidence of doctor errors.

A federal program launched in 2009 incentivized the transition to electronic health records with the aim to reduce errors according to Modern Healthcare. Certainly, automated systems come with plenty of benefits, from making it easy for physicians to access patients records to eliminating the problem of hard-to-read handwriting. However, human error tends to have more severe consequences in the emergency room setting given the fast pace and high stakes, and the potential for error only increases if there are design flaws in the electronic system.

For instance, some record systems may prevent health care providers from editing more than one medical record at a time, which can make it difficult for busy nurses and doctors to keep track of information when they are attending multiple patients simultaneously. With an electronic system, it is also easier for health care workers to pull up the wrong records, particularly at the end of a long shift. Confusing system layouts often play a role in medical errors of this sort.

Politico reports that increasingly, electronic errors are implicated in legal cases involving medical malpractice. Indeed, between 2013 and 2014, the number of cases related to electronic health records increased significantly compared to previous years, partly because of the rising numbers of automated systems used in hospitals nationwide.

These cases have identified a broad range of issues. For instance, there may be severe discrepancies between the patient’s actual condition, what shows up on the computer screen and what is presented in printouts. Typos and words dropped by voice-recognition software can also be culprits in medication errors. Although glitches in electronic records do not always result in patient harm, experts stress the need for strong governmental oversight to ensure both the security of patient data and the accuracy of electronic health records. 

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