Do EHRs kill people? Maybe so.

Here’s some cautionary words  on the adoption of electronic health records, in an essay from the rich archives of wonderfully snarky and insightful site thehealthcareblog.com.

Since IANAT (I Am Not A Techie), I can only offer an analyst’s take on the matter, but I believe author Margalit Gur-Arie’s argument makes great sense.  Anytime a technology goes beyond being a tool to driving decisions, humans have to adapt — and that breaks their stride. And off-balance care can lead to patient deaths. As she notes:

If EHRs become as pervasive in everyday medicine as ONC is proposing, every patient will eventually be touched by an EHR. It is very likely that some errors will be prevented by the sheer existence of an EHR but new and unfamiliar errors will also be introduced as side effects.

I continue to hope we can find a way to make EMR use simple, natural and fluid, but honestly, I’m still pretty skeptical it will happen.  So thanks to Gur-Arie for reminding people that EMRs, EHRs, PHRs and all other related tools are far from a panacea.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

3 Comments

  • EHR safety has been the subject of attention by both the FDA and also the ONC. This is particularly true for hospital-based EHR systems. I had blogged about it here.

    On the ambulatory-EHR side of the house, things are developing rapidly, and design for good usability seems to be farther along than for in-hospital systems – newer web-based technologies are seen in the ambulatory EHR space, whereas hospital systems are more often legacy, older enterprise client/server systems. Confession: I am Chief Medical Officer for an ambulatory, free, web-based EMR

  • I agree with Dr Rowley. EHRs or software-based medical devices are not new to the healthcare landscape. The FDA has and should continue to require qualification of the safety and effectiveness of any new medical device, including EHRs, to lessen the probability of an adverse event.

    I wonder how many adverse events have occurred without the use of an EHR system?

  • Gentlemen: Thanks for weighing in on this issue, which I believe will become more urgent as the EHR/EMR adoption process expands.

    Do you think the FDA is doing a good job of policing EHRs, and if not, what should they do to improve their efforts?

    By the way, you might be interested in the following article written by Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy (http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2010/05/cpoe-saves-lives-well-sure-but-more.html). Mr. Levy argues that it’s well-settled that CPOE technology DOES work.

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