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Electronic Medical Records Still Produce Medical Errors

Recent events have proven that requiring health care providers to switch to electronic medical records is not as fool proof as advertised.  A 2005 Rand Corp. study estimated a net $80 billion annual savings for the health care system by switching to electronic medical records. However, like any other computerized systems, there are vunerabilities relating to inputting of information, software deficiencies and system interoperability. 

For instance, last year a baby born prematurely in Chicago was accidently killed when a computerized IV machine administered a lethal dose of sodium chloride.  The dosage was 60 times the amount actually ordered by the physician, but the pharmacy technician typed the wrong information into the computer and the machine did not catch the error. Similarly a Pittsburgh medical center error occurred when a hepatitis C-positive kidney was accidently transplanted from a live donor into a patient.  Although there was a highlighted alert in the hospital's electronic records system, the entire transplant team missed it complaining that the system is cumbersome and difficult to use.

The Journal of the Americal Medical Informatics Associated recently published a study stating that a clinical panel found 452 of approximately 3,850 computer generated prescriptions received by a commercial pharmacy chain were in error.  This represents an error rate of 12 percent. This error rate is consistent with manual handwritten prescription error rates. 

In the U.K., The National Health Service has spent 10 years and $4.4 billion dollars to build a nationwide electronic records system that has turned out to be "unworkable".  According to a statement in the British Press, "Trying to create a one-size fits all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable."

Although the U.S. is rapidly pushing toward making a similar push toward electronic record-keeping, patients should remain vigilant about keeping up with their own histories and medication records.  Hoping that electronic records will be the ultimate solution appears to be an unrealistic and likely unworkable answer.