Who Will Police EMRs and EHRs?

Amid all the dog-bites-man type health IT news, here are some not-so-positive EMR/EHR stories that have been reported:

– An EMR in Lifespan hospital group gave incorrect prescriptions to some 2000 patients. The article in the Providence Journal says that

The hospitals have placed calls to nearly all the affected patients, although not all have called back, Cooper said. Most patients reached had already obtained the correct medication because the error was noticed by someone at the hospital, or a pharmacist or doctor outside, she said. So far, Cooper said, there is no evidence that any- one was harmed.

Thank goodness for that.

– Incorrectly calculated MU thresholds (GE Centricity). I’m not going to rehash the story, but you can check out Neil Versel’s article in InformationWeek, the spirited discussion on my previous EMR and EHR blog post and John’s EMR and HIPAA blog post.

It might be just be my skewed viewpoint, but GE Centricity related issues are nowhere on par with people being prescribed the wrong prescription. In one case, a few practices may not be able to demonstrate Meaningful Use. Wrong medication could actually be life-threatening to you. So if I had to rank my problems, I’d rather be short by 44K than worry about my EMR inadvertently killing my patients off.

What we need is a governing body, similar to the National Transportation Safety Board, to police EMRs, says Paul Cerrato in a recent InformationWeek Healthcare article.

Cerrato writes:

“An NTSB-like organization for EHRs would at the very least provide a reporting mechanism to keep track of incidents and life-threatening consequences of misusing e-records. More importantly, it could police vendors and healthcare providers who repeatedly ignore these dangers.”

Cerrato goes on to say there are only 120 EHR-specific problems reported to the FDA over the last 18 years. That figure, if correct, to me shows:

  • EMR users don’t know how/where they can report EMR related errors or don’t expect any action to be taken – this certainly is credible, because from all quarters, it seems as if the focus is just to get the healthcare field into electronic data capture, not on whether the experience delivers any tangible and useful benefits
  • Maybe they’re willing to give EMRs a pass assuming the healthcare IT to be in infancy
  • They’re too overwhelmed with the EMRs’ capabilities/inabilities to really see what’s going on

For a national database of EMR problems to be truly relevant, here’s the information I would look for, on problems I’m facing:

  • How critical was the error? How many people did it affect, and in what ways – medically, financially?
  • How was it handled?
  • How common is it – are there others who’ve faced similar problems?
  • If the problem was not sorted, what raps on the fingers did the vendors face?

Read the article here.

About the author


Priya Ramachandran

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.


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