Safety huddles offer a pathway to address EHR failures

Doctor typing on laptop
Daily safety huddles offer an opportunity to address EHR patient safety concerns.

A group of Texas informatics researchers are urging hospitals to utilize daily safety huddles to identify EHR shortcomings that impact patient care.

Widely adopted on the clinical side, hospitals and health systems have used daily safety huddles to identify patient safety concerns and discuss medical errors. But a one-year review of patient safety huddles in a midsized tertiary care hospital found those huddles frequently included discussions related to EHRs, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Informatics Association.

Researchers at the Houston Veterans Affairs Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety and Baylor Scott and White Health found that safety huddles spanning 249 days identified 245 EHR-related safety concerns, representing 7% of all safety concerns addressed in the huddles. Two-thirds of the concerns were traced back the EHR system either working incorrectly or not at all.

For example, clinicians reported incompatibility between devices or errors in data transmission, along with incorrect medication labeling and orders that were not visible to clinicians.

The research concluded that EHR concerns represented a “noteworthy proportion” of all patient safety discussions and argued that safety huddles offer an ideal opportunity for informatics and IT staff to address challenges with their clinical counterparts.

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“By providing a platform for team discussion and collaboration among IT and non-IT stakeholders (such as laboratory and pharmacy personnel, clinicians, and administrative leadership), safety huddles can increase various team members’ situational awareness about EHR-related safety, facilitating identification of concerns and development of plans to mitigate those concerns,” researchers wrote.  “The ‘blame-free’ culture created by safety huddles supports open communication, and using this proactive approach could allow earlier identification of safety issues and swift resolution as issues emerge.”

At HIMSS, representatives from Bon Secours Health System and the ECRI Institute predicted that technology will play a critical role in patient safety moving forward, although both noted that more work needs to be done to improve the impact of EHRs. Other studies have indicated that EHR use can hinder patient safety improvement research.