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Can electronic health records be made safer?

Published on Jun 28, 2017 at 9:54 pm in General Blogs.

If you’ve been to the doctor’s office or the hospital recently, chances are good that your medical information was recorded into and/or read from a computer screen or tablet. Indeed, paper charts appear to be racing toward obsolescence.

While this development is not altogether unsurprising given our reliance on technology in so many other aspects of our everyday lives, what is perhaps surprising is that electronic health records — or EHRs — have emerged as a serious threat to patient safety.

Indeed, the threats posed by EHRs aren’t just confined to things like breaches of cyber security or system crashes, but also include the absence of clarity and uniformity in how vital health information is displayed.

This reality, say experts, makes errors far more likely to occur, as medical professionals misread or fail to notice critical information in a patient’s EHR.

In case you have a hard time believing this, consider that the ECRI Institute, a renowned patient safety advocacy group, recently listed EHRs in its top ten list of patient safety concerns for 2017.

Interestingly, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s Electronic Health Record Association recently released a report outlining how some simple changes could go a long way toward rectifying this problem with EHRs.

A few of the suggestions made in the report include:

  • Lab results: EHRs should adopt a universal standard that enables physicians to quickly identify abnormal lab results (bold font, red lettering, etc.) while also setting forth a patient’s normal range.
  • Numerical formats: EHRs should adopt a universal standard as it relates to numerical formats (decimals, commas, etc.), such that figures are easier to comprehend on the fly. For example, 0.5 mg instead of .5 mg, as this could easily be misread as five milligrams.
  • Drug names: EHRs should adopt a universal standard to distinguish drug names that look/sound alike. One method to accomplish is the “tall man lettering” favored by the FDA (i.e., chlorproMAZINE vs. chlorproPAMIDE).

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s past time for EHRs to adopt universal and more user-friendly formats?

If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because of what you believe was medical negligence, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.

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