Healthcare Information Technology

Technology in Healthcare Can Result in Dangerous Errors

For decades, Paul Whelan (one of SKW’s partners) has represented plaintiffs in tragic cases resulting from the negligence of healthcare providers. Paul has written a number of articles and papers on some of his cases and what he has learned. One fact that he brought to my attention was that medical providers’ errors are a leading cause of death and serious injuries at hospitals. This was somewhat of a revelation to me, as I had always thought that hospital deaths were the inevitable outcome of profoundly injured or ill patients.

Now, with more healthcare facilities using technology to keep track of medical records, there is apparently another great source of errors. An article in Kaiser Health News details some of the growing problems with healthcare information technology. A leading critic, Dr. Scot Silverstein of Drexel University, points to poorly designed medical software–among other issues.

Dr. Silverstein told KHN: “We know it causes harm, and we don’t even know the level of magnitude. That statement alone should be the basis for the greatest of caution and slowing down.”

A rush to switch gears and use digital technology for medical records has supposedly led to incorrect prescriptions, treatment orders, etc., according to Dr. Silverstein. A data entry mistake led to the death of a baby in Illinois. In a major midwest health system, doctors’ orders were logged in the wrong patients’ charts.

Because the government doesn’t require healthcare facilities to report these types of problems, only a small percentage of all the errors stemming from digital medical records are likely reported.

Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, J.D., also has voiced such concerns:

From January 2008 to December 2010, the FDA received approximately 370 reports of adverse events or near misses purportedly associated with different types of HIT, including electronic health records (EHRs). They likely reflect a small percentage of the actual events that do occur.Most of the causes involve the failure to adequately address interoperability with other technologies, user error, inadequate workplace practices, design flaws, failure to properly test the technology prior to distribution, upon installation or during maintenance (such as validation testing), or failure to adequately address human factors, which is the design of a technology to address problems that can arise when people interface with machines.

Check out Dr. Silverstein’s blog, Health Care Renewal, for more details and words of caution against healthcare technology.


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