Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Do Electronic Health Records Reduce Medical Errors

Guns don't kill people, but people can use guns to shoot and kill people. Electronic health records (EHRs) or electronic medical records (EMRs) don't reduce medical errors by themselves. However, they can help clinicians reduce the risk of medical errors if they are used properly. Hence, although they have many automated alerts, reminders, and warnings that may pop up when an error is about to occur, there is still a need for human discretion when using these systems. Doctors (and other prescribers), pharmacists, and nurses need to be know how to use EHRs to reduce medical errors. As they become more familiar with the advantages of EHR/EMR solutions and as they get more proficient as using them, medical errors will decrease.

Actor Dennis Quaid has been pushing hard for EHRs and he made quite an argument at HIMSS 2009 in Chicago. He told his story of how his 10-day-old twins nearly died after they were mistakenly given excess doses of heparin at a Los Angeles hospital. Could this have been prevented by more robust EHR systems that alerted the entire healthcare team about the improper dose? Technologies such as computer physician-order entry (CPOE) and bar coding may have reduced the possibility of confusing drug packaging. Dennis Quaid and his wife have started the Quaid Foundation to promote awareness of the need for more information technology as a way to prevent medical errors.

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