Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 29, 2013

Electronic Health Records: Safe or Not?

Lauded for their ability to help healthcare organizations go paperless and be more environmentally friendly, electronic health records (EHRs) are being adopted in more and more hospitals and clinics. Most of the press they receive is overwhelmingly positive. Many claim that they can help reduce medical errors by making sure that all healthcare providers see the exact same records. However, some feel that the switch to electronic records has happened too quickly, and at the expense of the patients.

Dr. Scott Silverstein, an adjunct professor at Drexel University is one such critic. He has recently criticized Marin General Hospital for its adoption of a new, electronic system used to allow doctors to place medicine orders for their patients; a system which nurses at the hospital claim has caused a sharp increase in the amount of error incidents. As reported by the Marin Independent Journal, he began questioning the safety of EHRs after his own mother died because of an EHR error.

Although the CEO of Marin General Hospital said that the issues were only glitches, Silverstein claims that, “Glitches are a euphemism for life-threatening electronic health record malfunctions and defects.”

One of the biggest problems in determining the safety of EHRs is the huge discrepancy that exists between different studies on the matter. While most studies state that increased usage of health information technology like EHRs generally results in positive outcomes, there are other studies that say the exact opposite. A study that Silverstein quotes reported that over a nine-week period at 36 hospitals, an astounding 170 EHR malfunctions were reported, some serious and even fatal.

As older doctors retire and new doctors begin to practice, EHRs will continue to be adopted at a faster rate; younger physicians are much more likely to utilize the technology than older ones. However, as time goes on the technology is also bound to become more reliable as further advancements are made. Additionally, management at healthcare centers may take a cue from the struggles faced by hospitals such as Marin General and provide better training and slower implementation of such systems in order to keep their patients safe.

Edited by Lacey Henry
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