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Mistakes in electronic health records endanger patients

With more and more hospitals and other medical providers switching over to the use of electronic health records, more mistakes and missing data are being reported. Some mistakes in these records can cause serious problems for patients and result in medical malpractice. In Pennsylvania alone, there were twice as many mistakes in electronic health records affecting patient safety in 2011 as in the year before.

A recent study focused on 3,000 such incidents in Pennsylvania. While only 16 of the incidents reported in an eight-year period resulted in harm to a patient, the potential for serious harm is troublesome. Mistakes in failing to adequately document a patient's allergy to penicillin, for example, resulted in the person being given the medication anyway. The electronic health record contained the information, but not in the proper place, and the patient suffered anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. Fortunately, in this case the patient survived.

The number of electric medical record errors reported to the state grew from a low of 31 incidents in 2004 to 555 in 2010 and vastly expanded to 1,142 in 2011. In 47 percent of the incidents, medical professionals typed in the wrong information. In 18 percent of the incidents, the electronic health record was simply not updated to include information that was known and recorded elsewhere. Other difficulties included times when systems were down, data was lost or the system otherwise did not function properly.

A panel of the Institute of Medicine, alarmed by the potential for patient harm, has called for an independent federal investigation of the problems with electronic health records. The federal government appears responsive to such an examination, which could further minimize the damage caused by errors in electronic health records.

Source: American Medical News, "EHR-related errors soar but few harm patients," Kevin B. O'Reilly, Jan. 14, 2013

  • Our firm represents patients who have been negatively affected by medical errors. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Harrisburg medical malpractice page.

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