eClinicalWorks Warns Users About Patient Safety Risks

Posted on December 21, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

EMR vendor eClinicalWorks has issued a warning to users about “potential patient safety risks” in its software, a very unusual step which is almost unheard of from vendors in this market.

If there are any meaningful care problems that could occur by using the company’s software, they could have a broad impact. According to the vendor, 115,000-odd physicians use its software, 850,000 healthcare professionals and 70,000 facilities.

Unlike many such announcements by software vendors – which typically identify, say a security vulnerability or a newly-identified bug – the press announcement on the topic is rather broad. In its press release on the subject, eClinicalWorks summarizes its goals as follows:

eCW is making this announcement to ensure that all participants in the healthcare process – clinicians, pharmacies, and patients and their family members or caregivers – are aware of key patient safety risks and are focused on the roles they can play in minimizing those risks.

But there’s certainly more. In what comes across as exasperation with providers who aren’t keeping up with advisories, eCW asks its users to implement software upgrades needed to address problems with medication management, electronic prescribing and the process of ordering tests and procedures.

Specifically, eCW notes that it needs providers to install upgrades issued back in December of last year. It also pleads with doctors to upgrade their eCW to the latest version of their software, which it issued in July of 2016, as well as asking users to upgrade to the most current version of the Multum or Medispan drug databases.

In addition to making these technical requests, eCW makes several operational suggestions, including that users should read every patient safety notice, designate a patient safety officer to serve as eCW liason, and asks providers to confirm order accuracy as well as training patients to do the same. It also urges providers to follow appropriate steps for modifying medications and to take special care with custom medications.

Then, in a particularly unusual move, the press release also speaks directly to patients, advising them to be educated about their care, to know their medications and orders and to confirm that tests performed are the right ones and med orders are accurate.

It remains to be seen how effective eCW’s public awareness strategy will be. After all, if your end users are so recalcitrant that they don’t bother to keep their critical software up to date, neither pleading nor shaming them is likely to do the trick. Plus, many users don’t upgrade EHR software because there’s a cost to upgrade the software (Not sure if eCW’s upgrades are free or not).

That being said, doctors using eClinicalWorks will have virtually no excuse they can offer if a patient is harmed by software they were privately and publicly warned to update. If its customers figure this out, perhaps fear of med mal litigation will achieve eCW’s purpose after all.