Healthcare News & Insights

3 health IT hazards that threaten patient safety

Though EHRs and other health IT systems can improve care, they could have a negative impact on patient safety if they aren’t properly designed, implemented and used. 

That’s the message in a recent report from the ECRI Institute that listed the top 10 health technology hazards threatening patient safety today. Three of those hazards were related to EHRs and other health IT systems and devices, and the report recommends providers pay particular attention to health IT when planning patient safety initiatives.

These are the top three health IT hazards — and what organizations can do to lower the risk:

1. Distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices

As smartphones and tablets get more popular with consumers, they’re also becoming commonly used for professional purposes in the medical field. While those gadgets can help improve care by giving doctors and nurses faster access to data, both professional and personal mobile devices can threaten patient safety.

The problem, according to ECRI: Doctors, nurses and staff members can be easily distracted by smartphones and other devices and make dangerous errors. For example, receiving text messages or emails in the middle of a task could cause someone to enter data incorrectly or fail to notice a serious alert in a system. To prevent those potentially deadly distractions, ECRI recommends providers:

  • Create policies on the appropriate use of mobile devices on the premises
  • Train all applicable people about the dangers of digital distractions, and
  • Consider enforcing a ban on using those devices at certain times.

2. Patient/data mismatched in EHRs

EHRs can help doctors access key patient information more easily so they can make better and quicker decisions about treatments. But, as ECRI points out, they can also make it more likely that treatments and tests are ordered for the wrong patients.

Names can be attached to the wrong records for a variety of reasons, including user errors and software bugs. While name/data mismatches can occur with paper records, they’re likely to have a greater impact with EHRs because that electronic data is often transmitted and shared with other systems — and sometimes, it’s sent via a health information exchange to other providers.

To prevent those threats to patient safety, ECRI recommends organizations:

  • Evaluate different methods systems can use to pick which record to place data into — some options are choosing patients from a list, or scanning a bar code on patients’ wristbands
  • Pay close attention to errors that may be made when a patient transfers from one area to another, and when a medical device is transferred from one patient to another, and
  • Test health IT systems when they’re implemented to make sure data errors aren’t occurring.

3. Medical device and health IT system interoperability errors

EHRs and other health IT systems often collect their data from monitors and other medical devices. Again, while that can reduce manual transcription errors, new problems can arise when the systems and devices aren’t properly communicating.

And according to ECRI’s research, interfaces between EHRs and monitoring devices often don’t work as they’re supposed to. Sometimes, that means devices transmitting incorrect data or incompatibilities shutting entire systems down. To prevent problems, ECRI recommends:

  • Making a complete inventory of devices and systems and how they’re configured and connected, so there’s a record of what configurations work
  • Testing any changes made to devices or systems before they’re made, while watching for adverse effects across the whole organization, and
  • Having a policy against making any hardware or software changes before those tests are completed.

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