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No safety switch: How lax oversight of EHRs puts patients at risk

Back in 2009, healthcare experts, including mainly members of the American Medical Informatics Association, envisioned creating a national databank to track reports of deaths, injuries and near misses linked to issues with the move to have computerised medical records.

The experts at that September 2009 meeting agreed that safety should be a top priority as federal officials poured more than $30 billion into subsidies to wire up medical offices and hospitals nationwide. However, it never happened. Instead, plans for putting patient safety first — and for building a comprehensive injury reporting and reviewing system — have stalled for nearly a decade, because manufacturers of electronic health records (EHRs), health care providers, federal health care policy wonks, academics and Congress have either blocked the effort or fought over how to do it properly, an ongoing investigation by Fortune and Kaiser Health News (KHN) shows.

Meanwhile, patients remain at risk of harm. In March, Fortune and KHN revealed that thousands of injuries, deaths or near misses tied to software glitches, user errors, interoperability problems and other flaws have piled up in various government-sponsored and private repositories. One study uncovered more than 9,000 patient safety reports tied to EHR problems at three pediatric hospitals over a five-year period.

Despite such incidents, experts believe EHRs have made medicine safer by eliminating errors due to illegible handwriting and in some cases speeding up access to vital patient files. But they also acknowledge they have no idea how much safer, or how much the systems could still be improved because no one — a decade after the federal government all but mandated their adoption — is assessing the technology’s overall safety record.

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Source: Kaiser Health News, 21 November 2019


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