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Study Shows Electronic Health Records May Contribute To Medication Errors

May 10, 2013

Nearly everyone will be prescribed medication to treat some kind of condition during their lives. As a patient, you put your trust in your doctor and pharmacy to provide you with the correct type and dosage. Unfortunately, even under the best circumstances medication errors can occur, sometimes with devastating results. Some of the most common medication errors include ordering the wrong medication for the patient's condition, incorrect dosage, and medication that is contraindicated with a patient's other medications or conditions. Misfilled prescriptions and other pharmacy errors can also lead to serious consequences.

Electronic health records (EHRs) were introduced as a way to streamline patient information and reduce medical errors. Unfortunately, a recent study of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System suggests that EHRs may just as easily cause medication errors as prevent them. As a result, EHRs may actually increase the rate of medical malpractice--at least in the short term.

The study evaluated over 8,000 reports of patient-safety incidents and serious events filed between 2004 and 2012 and narrowed the pool to 3,099 reports relevant to EHRs. The vast majority of the patient-safety incidents were classified as "event, no harm" (an error occurred with no adverse outcome for the patient) or "unsafe conditions." However, a of medication errors did result in harm to the patient. The study also found that using EHRs provided no significant benefit over traditional recordkeeping. In fact, the study found that many of the problems were related to incorrect input, like data entered in the wrong field, incorrect patient parameters, and even incorrect physician names.

Disturbingly, one of the study's authors believes there may be even more adverse events related to EHRs that went undetected by this research. Specifically, caregivers reporting the errors may not have used the correct health-IT related terms in their reports. The ongoing use of both paper and electronic reporting systems also contributes to a lack of consistent and thorough data. The researchers hope that the information uncovered by their study highlights the fact that electronic medical records have not solved the problem of incorrect data leading to medication errors. In order to make EHRs an efficient method of collecting and saving data, the healthcare industry will need to develop a nationwide technology system free of any significant glitches.


Pharmacy Practice News, Pennsylvania Study Reveals Errors Associated with EHRs, April 2013

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