Who among us wouldn’t want their health care providers to become more efficient? Shorter wait times, faster appointments, easier access to medical records—there is little doubt that each of these would go a long way in making a trip to the doctor’s office far less stressful. But what if efficiency came with a cost? How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to save some time and aggravation in the waiting room?
Slowly but surely, computers are changing the way doctors do business. Prompted by financial incentives from the government, many medical offices have begun making the transition from paper medical records to electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs are able to accomplish a number of things that would be impossible with pen and paper. They have the ability to store patient data, guide provider’s decisions, identify potential dangers, and allow for remote patient access. However, there is a significant drawback to EHR efficiency: the potential for life-altering errors and oversight.
In a study conducted over a nine-week period, the ECRI Institute received reports 171 EHR-related errors, including three patient deaths. According to the study, nearly 30% of all reported errors were the result of general system malfunctions (e.g., a nurse being unable to enter adequate information into a patient file because of a limit on the number of characters). Another 25% of the errors involved output problems, such as retrieving the wrong patient file, while 24% related to data input problems.
While most of these mistakes can be traced to human error, the complicated EHR systems currently in place certainly did not help. With doctors and nurses not entirely sure of how the systems work and how to utilize them effectively, the implementation of EHRs into medical offices is sure to cause many problems for patients and providers alike.
Efficiency is a great thing, but not at the cost of patient safety. In the rush to go paperless, the medical health profession must take great pains to ensure that the new systems are not only accurate, but that employees are well-trained in their operation. If not, the price to be paid for efficiency could end up being human lives.