EHR use, practices hinder patient safety improvement research

Photo credit: Getty/Leoshoot

While electronic health records hold a lot of data that could improve patient safety, barriers remain that hinder patient safety improvement research, according to a study published recently in Elsevier.

The researchers, from the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and elsewhere, investigated the ability to research EHRs for patient safety using a case study of the delay/missed follow-up of abnormal test results at three private healthcare systems that use commercial EHR-based test result communication systems.

They encountered three hurdles in their research, including:

  1. The inability to gain approval to access and review EHR data. The researchers were unable to access some data remotely. There were also restrictions on network connections and types of access. For instance, they were not allowed to use all of the functions of the EHR, including secure messaging to providers, which forced the researchers to have to telephone them. 
  1. Challenges in interpreting EHR data, such as the variable amounts of structured EHR data to identify abnormal results, making automated comparisons hard or impossible.
  1. Difficulties working with local IT/EHR personnel because of competing priorities, especially regarding Meaningful Use and EHR updates. Local personnel also had trouble identifying, extracting and understanding data needs from a clinical and research perspective.      

“EHR-related patient safety research must be prioritized because it is so closely integrated with clinical operations and could lead to faster systems and process improvements than many other types of research," the authors said. "To develop best practices to leverage EHRs and their abundant data to promote patient safety improvement research, many current data access security policies and procedures must be rewritten and standardized across health care organizations. Only this large-scale, systems-level effort will help make EHRs and EHR data useful for improving patient safety, quality and efficiency."

To learn more:
- read the study