EHRs help California hospitals reduce medical errors

An electronic health record is one of the primary tools that can decrease the number of medical errors in hospitals, according to a new report published by the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California, pictured).

The staff report surveyed 283 California hospitals to determine what they were doing to reduce common medical errors, such as surgical site infections and pressure ulcers, receiving responses from more than half (53 percent). While hospitals are taking many approaches to reduce medical errors--such as minimizing blood transfusion--EHRs figured prominently in the hospitals' efforts to reduce errors.

Some of the identified approaches included:

  • Using computerized physician order entry with the EHR to eliminate adverse drug events
  • Building a tool in the EHR to document performance and prevent central line bloodstream infections
  • Using the EHR to prompt a clinician to order deep vein thrombosis prevention

The hospitals also acknowledged that alarm fatigue was a problem.

The study recommended, among other things, that in the next round of regulations for EHRs, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT include a standard method of reporting medical errors to allow hospitals and researchers to better collect data on errors, their frequency and where they occur.

"If we work together, we can prevent these needless tragedies," the report stated. "If we ensure that doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, medical technology leaders, federal officials and patient advocates are all focused on this common goal, we can make great progress in preventing these avoidable deaths and ending the epidemic of medical errors in this country."

Although EHRs may unintentionally create unsafe conditions--such as inaccurate medical records--when used correctly they can reduce or eliminate errors that commonly cause harm to patients.

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