DeSalvo 'disappointed' in portrayal of EHRs as unsafe

National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, displeased with the Boston Globe's recent article portraying electronic health records as error-prone and lacking safety oversight, responded by pointing out what she called flaws in the newspaper's reporting.

In an editorial published July 27 in the Globe, DeSalvo relayed that she was "disappointed" that the article provided no examples of the many success stories about EHRs and patient safety and that their omission from the article "incompletely portrays the important role of electronic health records in improving patient safety and outcomes."

The Globe, in a July 20 article pointed out patient safety concerns related to EHRs, chastised the government for not requiring reporting of adverse EHR-related safety events as recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and accused vendors of using political clout with Democrats to avoid any mandatory reporting.

DeSalvo reiterated that EHRs can help identify and prevent potential medical errors and that ONC, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Communications Commission, have proposed a health IT safety center which would assist with voluntary reporting. "Many patient advocates, medical professionals, and other stakeholders have expressed support for this approach," she said.

The original article has generated more than 50 comments on the Globe's website, with some agreeing with the patient safety concerns raised in the article and the design and other flaws inherent in EHRs. Others pointed out the mistakes in the article, such as the failure to acknowledge that human error is often the cause of patient harm--not the EHRs themselves, that the primary example of harm described in the article actually also involved a paper record, and that it was former President George W. Bush who first encouraged the adoption of the systems.

The safety benefits and risks of EHRs have been well known for years, and are the results of many factors, including design flaws, misuse and lack of accountability.    

To learn more:
- read the editorial