Healthcare News & Insights

Report: Medication errors caused by EHR systems’ default values

Like any tool used in health care, electronic health record (EHR) systems must be used properly or they can create new risks for patient safety. A recent study highlights one potentially dangerous mistake. 

115029066Many medication errors result from EHR software entering incorrect data by default, according to a recent report from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PPSA).

Systems often use default values to save time for providers — for example, the software might automatically fill in dosage information or schedules for commonly prescribed medications. However, that function can cause problems if providers aren’t careful, the PPSA warned.

Researchers combed through a database with data on medical errors that have occurred over the past 10 years and found 324 incidents related to default values in EHR systems. Specifically, those errors were caused when:

  • an employee forgot to change a default value when needed (128 incidents)
  • the EHR system overrode a manual entry (19 incidents)
  • an employee entered an incomplete medication order and remaining fields were filled automatically with inappropriate values (16 incidents), and
  • for one reason or another, the system wouldn’t allow default values to be changed (5 incidents).

Outcomes can be dangerous

Fortunately, just four of those incidents caused harm to patients, according to the report. However, two of those medication errors did result in extended hospitalizations.

The most common outcome was that patients were given the wrong medication schedules, followed by incorrect dosages and premature suspensions of medication.

To prevent problems, it’s important to train employees to be careful when entering data and to test systems to make sure manual entries are accepted without problems. It may also be helpful if the system’s display clearly distinguishes between default values and information entered by the user.

In addition, the PPSA says, hospitals should regularly look at their EHR systems to make sure all the default values stay current with their clinical practices.

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