Healthcare News & Insights

Studies highlight 2 sources of dangerous health IT mistakes

Recent studies reveal two of the most common reasons clinicians and others might make serious errors when using new technology: 

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Too many drop-down menus

One of the biggest types of mistakes hospitals must watch out for: prescription errors. And the way doctors and staff use electronic prescribing systems can have a big impact on how many errors are made, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Researchers looked at the treatment of 629 patients at two hospitals in Sidney using two different e-prescribing systems.

It’s worth noting that those systems prevented more errors than they caused, researchers said. However, of the 1,164 prescription errors that were observed during the study period, 42% occurred while using the e-prescribing system (only 2% were considered serious errors).

And among all system-related errors, 43% occurred when the user had to select from a drop-down menu.

According to researchers, users of e-prescribing systems seem to be more careful when they have to enter information themselves. When they just choose from a list, it’s easier to get careless and click the wrong item.

Non-stop alerts

One feature in EHR systems and other health IT that is designed to improve safety but can backfire: electronic alerts. Those alerts are meant to prevent drug interactions, remind doctors when treatments or immunizations should be scheduled, or help in a number of other areas.

Previous studies have shown the effect of so-called “alert fatigue.” Basically,what that means is systems display so many irrelevant or unnecessary alerts that doctors are likely to ignore the important ones that do come up.

And a recent case report published in Pediatrics looks at the role alert fatigue 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.

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