CDC: Use lab professionals to improve EHR safety

While electronic health records are changing how lab data is transmitted and displayed, variations in design, functionality and an ability to share that data can cause preventable patient safety risks, such as misdiagnoses, treatment delays and inappropriate treatment, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report identifies examples of patient safety risks involving EHRs and labs, and highlights how lab professionals can contribute their expertise to EHR design, development and implementation. The report also recommends that lab professionals be engaged, help guide and maintain data integrity and usability of lab data, and stimulate innovations of technology and usability to reduce lab data-related errors attributed to EHR use.  

"Laboratory professionals and organizations can support the future vision and help improve the overall quality of healthcare for individual patients and the national population," the report's authors wrote. "To do so, laboratory professionals can educate themselves on the promises and pitfalls of EHR systems, and proactively engage in creating the solutions essential to sustaining the transformation of the U.S. healthcare system.  

In the best case scenario, the authors say, lab professionals, clinicians and federal agencies would collaborate on the development and promotion of "standards, policies, practices and services that improve the use of laboratory information throughout the patient encounter."

Research published last month concluded that physicians do not devote the same amount of attention to all of the information in an electronic note, virtually ignoring medication lists, vital signs or lab results.

And while most labs don't provide patients with electronic access to their lab reports, a majority of results are shared with ordering providers in electronic format, according to two data briefs published in February by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

EHRs are widely known to be both a boon to and a risk of patient safety, depending on how they are designed and used. ONC recently created a set of guides to help providers reduce these safety risks, including the risks of EHRs and test review and follow up.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)