Healthcare News & Insights

Report names health IT’s biggest hazards for providers

The ECRI Institute recently published a report detailing the top 10 health IT hazards providers and patients are facing right now. Topping the list: so-called “alert fatigue” from EHR software, medical devices and other systems.

dangersignAs ECRI points out, those alarms exist for a reason. Monitors, ventilators, pumps and other devices offer alerts that can help save patients’ lives. In addition, EHR systems, electronic prescribing software and other applications can help doctors avoid problems such as medication mismatches and allergic reactions.

However, it’s also possible to have too many alarms, the report says. Systems often provide too many alerts, including many that are unnecessary. The end result is that many are ignored, even those that are critical for the patient’s health and safety.

Alert fatigue puts patients in danger

Recent real-life incidents have shown just how dangerous alert fatigue can be. A recent case report published in Pediatrics looks at the role missed or ignored results may have played in the death of a young patient after he was administered medication he was allergic to.

According to the report, doctors received over 100 EHR alerts for the patient over the course of a month and overrode them because the doctors felt they were irrelevant or incorrect. Therefore, researchers said, the clinicians were desensitized to the alerts and ignored the warnings about the drug allergy.

Alert fatigue is quite common, too. A study from last year found that doctors ignore 96% of all medication alerts they receive.

While part of the problem will hopefully be helped as software providers and device manufacturers improve their alert systems, there are some steps hospitals can be taking to help keep patients safe:

  1. Configure systems to maximize the number of relevant alerts and minimize those that are irrelevant and distracting.
  2. When possible, allow alerts to be tiered based on severity and test the system to verify that alerts are being categorized properly.
  3. Develop standard protocols for clinicians and others to respond to alerts.
  4. Give clinicians enough training so they understand what alerts are displayed and why they’re important.
  5. Monitor what alerts are being overriden and offer more training and policy guidance when it’s needed.

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