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Electronic health records and medical errors

As experts have long argued, communication is a key factor in providing proper medical care. When provider communication breaks down, medical errors ensue, causing injury, and even death.

The advent and increasingly widespread use of electronic health records by providers in Illinois and nationwide has a great potential to improve communication and record-keeping, with a corresponding decrease in medical errors. However, several factors contribute to a situation where EHR implementation has not reached its potential and has even created errors of its own.

How EHR should work

In an ideal world, using EHR allows providers to quickly create a complete record, which other providers, including those at other facilities, can instantly access. EHR could prevent the common dangerous situations where errors occur because a doctor in a hurry made incomplete notes, wrote illegibly or did not receive the patient record in time. Unfortunately, while it may have cut down incidences of previous types of errors, EHR use has instead led to new ways provider communication can break down.

Top reasons it does not work

One common reason EHR may not work as intended is that any system is only as good as its users. Providers may still skimp on entering information, and they may also click the wrong item on drop-down menus, fail to save their entries and commit other user errors that result in a faulty record.

Another problem that can lead to errors is that many hospitals and other facilities are still in the process of implementing EHR and integrating it with a paper record system. Many facilities' workflow does not lend itself to only using EHR; often, staff must enter information from paper documents into the system.

Finally, there are some issues that may be inherent to the EHR software. Common problems include software glitches as well as difficulty integrating with a legacy system or older hardware.

Potential solutions

As EHR developers continue to work on the technical side, there are several steps hospitals can take to reduce errors and protect their patients. These include comprehensive user training as well as workflow analysis and modification.

EHR mistakes can lead to errors in medication prescriptions, treatments and diagnosis. Patients who suffer as a result of hospital negligence may seek out legal and financial compensation.

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