The days of paper record keeping are gone. Now not only can we safely store our data, but we can communicate with whoever originally wrote the data, see previous versions of relevant data, and fact check records swiftly and efficiently.
But no electronic record keeping system is perfect. So much information passes through a hospital or clinic’s electronic storage systems that errors and mistakes are all but inevitable.
Medication errors are the largest percentage of EHR-related errors. This could mean that a patient was prescribed the wrong medication, was given too much of a medication, or was not given medication in time. Some errors could be a result of doctor negligence, but they can also be caused by faulty EHR systems. If you were the victim of a prescription medication error, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case.
From Paper to HITECH
Not too long ago, you could enter your family care physician’s waiting room and see an entire wall devoted to the storage of every patient’s medical records—all on paper. It’s easy to see how such a system could become cumbersome and pose a security risk. Literal storage space could become an issue, and misplacing a sheet of paper could mean the exposure of someone’s medical history.
As record keeping began moving from pen-and-paper to digital, the government advocated for hospitals and medical offices to move to digital storage methods. The HITECH Act of 2009 offered healthcare providers incentive payments to switch from paper to electronic health record systems. HITECH also expanded security and privacy regulations already outlined in HIPAA to cover digital storage systems.
Unfortunately an overhaul of this size comes with its own issues, especially when it involves digital systems that are still being developed.
Problems with EHR Systems
As if transitioning from paper to completely digital records wasn’t difficult enough, the EHR systems themselves may have flaws that can result in harm for a patient.
For instance, the pages may be too big to fit on the screen. Misleading layouts could cause dosage guidelines to be mistaken for a pharmacy order list. There might not be enough space in a patient’s record to list all of their their medications, allergies, or symptoms—and if their doctor doesn’t have all the information they need to correctly diagnose their patient, then they run the risk of prescribing the wrong medication for the patient’s condition.
But it isn’t just design flaws that can cause issues. The slow processing speeds of some EHRs can result in doctors not having a transfer patient’s information by the time they come in for an appointment, or in emergency patients not receiving life-saving care in time. Another problem with some EHR systems is autopopulating incorrect information; if not corrected, the patient may never receive the proper medications that they need.
EHR systems are also vulnerable to hacking. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) ensures that EHR systems meet nationwide security, privacy, and usability standards. Healthcare providers must use EHR systems that have been certified by the ONC if they want to receive incentive payments.
But that isn’t the only reason a healthcare provider would want to use a certified system. The ONC has decertified some systems and outright banned developers who withdrew their product rather than go through the certification process or refused to make their system compliant with ONC regulations. If a system cannot guarantee patient safety, or if a developer neglects to patch problems in the code even after coming under ONC review, the hospital could leave themselves vulnerable to hacking and data breaches that result in leaked health information.
Problems from User Error
While EHR systems have issues of their own, that doesn’t mean the medical staff who use EHRs are somehow exempt from responsibility due to human error.
Some errors may be due in part to EHR formatting. A doctor may click the wrong box and order the wrong prescription, or forget to put in the correct dosage because the dosage input is easy to overlook on the page.
But sometimes these errors could easily be avoided. For instance, copy-pasting incorrect information from an old form without double checking whether the information is up to date is a harmful habit that would be easy to change.
It can be difficult to make the transition from paper to digital, especially for older employees. Everyone must undergo extensive training to ensure they know how to use EHR systems and follow the proper security measures. And as the systems are updated, all employees must receive updated training. If a doctor isn’t up to date on their office’s system, they can easily make a mistake that harms a patient.
Who is Responsible for Medication Errors?
If you suffer side effects or physical harm because of improperly administered or incorrect medication, you could have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. To pursue a malpractice claim, you must prove that your doctor or your pharmacist was negligent and in doing so caused you harm. This may be tricky if some of the problem originated from a faulty EHR system or a lack of EHR usage training.
This is where a medical malpractice attorney can help. An attorney will track down how the error happened and who may share negligence. If you or someone you know has been misdiagnosed, given the wrong medication, or mistreated due to EHR system or operator error, Hensley Legal Group may be able to help. Call us today or contact us online for a free conversation about your claim.