Electronic health records (EHRs) are meant to benefit patients and doctors alike. They can keep messy handwriting or smudged ink from creating a miscommunication. Digital record-keeping can help alert doctors about potentially dangerous drug interactions.
With all these benefits, though, the very programs meant to protect patients from human error can easily create new problems.
Electronic health records may not catch all potential interactions or allergies.
Especially as doctors rely more on software to warn them about concerns, it can be distressingly easy for the faults of a program to put patients in danger. One recent study indicates that EHRs miss as much as one-third of potentially harmful medication interactions or allergies to medication. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff should catch these errors, and medical professionals placing too much faith in this software could risk patients’ health in the process.
Automatic rounding and drop-down menus can create errors.
Many systems involve menus or search functions to make it easier for doctors to select conditions, medical procedures and tests, medications and other information. Other systems automatically round numbers. While these shortcuts may simplify record-keeping, they also mean that a misplaced click of a mouse could lead to prescription errors, dosing errors and other concerns.
Dictation may free up doctors’ hands, but it can also lead to unusable records.
While electronic dictation may allow medical professionals to talk through their thoughts while examining a patient rather than stopping to take notes, dictation software has limits. If the software does not accurately record a doctor’s words, those inaccuracies could lead to unclear instructions, errors or garbled messages. Some studies have found an error rate of 7%, and even a single error could put patients at risk of medication errors, dosing errors and many other malpractice issues.
For those harmed by errors made using EHRs, there is hope. By taking legal action, they could hold healthcare professionals responsible for their part in this harm and fight for the financial support they need to recover after medical malpractice.