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The Risks of Electronic Health Records

December 21, 2023

By now, we’ve all seen our doctors with a PC or tablet during our appointments and in the hospital using electronic health records (EHRs). But can you trust electronic health records, and is the information in EHRs accurate? Although there are clear benefits to using EHRs, there are also common dangers of electronic health records.

Hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices use EHRs as a way to save time and money while caring for patients. This technology usually works seamlessly, but think of the number of times you’ve experienced an error on your home PC, tablet, or smartphone. When this happens, it’s an annoyance. But when it happens in the medical setting, it can be catastrophic. In fact, the results of a 2017 survey with 30,000 responses found that 20% of patients who read their online medical record notes found a mistake. Moreover, 40% of respondents considered the mistake serious. The errors that respondents considered very serious included:

  • Mistakes in diagnosis;
  • Errors in medical history, physical exam, and/or test results; and
  • Notes belonging to another patient.

Hospitals and doctors are implementing the using of EHRs, and there’s the potential for malpractice. Here are a few ways in which EHRs can cause malpractice in medical practices:

  • Design Flaws. A software flaw could be incompatible with a physician’s computer system, and a design flaw can result in significant problems for patients. Many electronic record systems only allow access to one medical record at a time, so it’s difficult for healthcare staff to properly treat multiple patients. As a result, the staff may have to try to remember things to enter the system later or write things down on paper to add electronically at a later time.
  • Technical Issues. Many EHRs are confusing and not user-friendly. This makes it difficult for healthcare providers to navigate the system and correctly input patient To that end, a recent study showed that 39.5% of the EHRs evaluated had a technical issue that could potentially harm patients.
  • Auto-Correct and Auto-Complete Issues. A lot of EHRs have auto-complete software. This allows physicians to automatically fill in text after they type a few letters. It makes it easy for doctors to accidentally enter the incorrect information. Plus, the auto-correct function can cause mistakes when it identifies and corrects spelling errors: it can change words to other, similar words that can affect the patient’s diagnosis and treatment.
  • Time Constraints. There’s a ton of data available on each patient with a lot of different screens for doctors to get through. Time constraints—particularly in the ER—can make it tough, if not impossible, for physicians to review all the information required to treat patients safely. This can result in missed lab results and medical history, along with other safety-related mistakes.
  • User Errors. Utilizing EHR programs are designed to make things better for the staff, but when physicians, PAs, NPs, nurses, and staff are overworked and not trained properly, mistakes can happen. It takes time to become accustomed to a new system, and an error might lead to a malpractice case. A busy ER means that doctors and nurses work quickly and in many instances on a number of patients simultaneously. As a result, EHRs can lead to errors.
  • Medication Errors. Medication issues, such as patients getting the incorrect drugs, the wrong doses, and treatment delays can cause serious patient harm—and EHRs can be the cause of a medication error. Studies have found that EHRs don’t always contain accurate and current information about medications. In fact, based on doctors’ clinical notes, about a quarter of medications were missing or incorrect in the EHR medication lists. Such discrepancies can cause serious health problems like adverse drug interactions and other drug safety issues.
  • Data Breaches. Hackers and data breaches are common, and in the medical industry, they could lead to heartbreaking results. Despite the care in running a healthcare organization, it’s possible for criminals to penetrate the network.
  • Log-In Issues. Most EHR systems have a way of tracking log-ins, but these can frequently be inaccurate. If a doctor, nurse, or other staff member shares his or her password, it may not be possible to determine fault in a malpractice case.

As you can see, EHRs can be a major cause of potential malpractice incidents. As a result, it’s vital that doctors look at the pros and cons of electronic health records and make sure they’re aware of the potential for error.

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