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EHR Usability Problems Linked To Potential Patient Harm

Posted on April 9, 2018 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.

If you’re a clinician, you’ve probably always felt that EHR usability problems were a factor in some patient care glitches. Now, there’s some research backing up this hunch. While the numbers of EHR-specific events represented in the study are relatively low, its lead researcher said that it probably underestimated the problem by several orders of magnitude.

The study, which was profiled in the American Journal of Managed Care concluded, that at least some patient safety events were attributable to usability issues. The study, which was just published in JAMA, involved the analysis of nearly 2 million reported safety events taking place from 2013 to 2016 in 571 healthcare facilities in Pennsylvania. The data also included records from a large mid-Atlantic multi-hospital academic medical system.

Of the 1.735 million reports, 1,956 (0.11%) directly mentioned an EHR vendor or product. Also, 557 (0.03%) include language explicitly suggesting that usability concerns played a role in possible patient harm, AJMC reported.

Meanwhile, of the 557 events, 84% involved a situation where patients needed to be monitored to preclude harm, 14% of events potentially caused temporary harm, 1% potentially caused permanent harm and under 1% (2 cases), resulted in death.

The lead researcher on the study, Raj Ratwani, PhD, MA, told the AJMC that these issues are unlikely to resolve unless EHR vendors better understand how providers manage the rollout of their products.

Even if the vendor has done a good job with usability, he suggests, healthcare organizations adopting the platform sometimes make changes to the final configuration during their implementation of the product, something which could be undoing some of the smart usability choices and safety choices made by the vendor. “We really need to focus on the variability that’s occurring during the implementation and ensuring that vendors and providers are working together,” Ratwani said.

Along the way, it’s worth pointing out that the researchers themselves feel that the actual number of usability-related patient safety events could be far higher than the study would suggest.

Ratwani cautioned that he and his team took a “very, very conservative approach” to how they analyzed the patient safety reports. In fact, he suspects that since patient safety events are substantially underreported, the number of events related to poor usability is probably also very understated as well.

He also noted that while the study only included reports that explicitly mentioned the name of the vendor or product, clinicians usually don’t include such names when their writing up a safety report.

Study: Doctors Made More Note-Taking Errors With EHRs Than Paper

Posted on July 19, 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.

A new study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has concluded that a sample group of physicians made more data entry errors with a new EHR than in comparable paper records, according to a HealthcareITNews item.

Researchers studied progress notes created at a Michigan hospital, Beaumont Hospital of Royal Oak, Michigan, between August 2011 and July 2013. They looked at 500 notes created during that period, some of which were prepared before the EHR implementation in 2012 and some after. The charts contained five specific diagnoses which always include physical findings, including permanent atrial fibrillation, aortic stenosis, intubation, lower limb amputation and cerebrovascular accident with hemiparesis.

Upon analysis, they found that rates of inaccurate documentation were 24.4% with the EHR, versus 4.4% with paper records. Residents had fewer inaccuracies (5.3% vs. 17.3%) and omissions (16.8% vs. 33.9%) than attending physicians.

While this is no reason to throw the EHR baby out with the bathwater – after all, the physicians in question were learning a system for the first time – it’s still a troubling set of statistics. They are even more troubling given that EHR documentation errors can sometimes create patient safety problems of their own, especially in fast-moving care settings like the emergency department.

“There are new categories of patient safety errors” taking place in EDs that didn’t exist before EHR use became commonplace, according to Raj Ratwani, scientific director for MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare in Washington, D.C., who spoke with Kaiser Health News. For example, EHRs that only allow doctors to edit records for one patient at a time can make it harder to track ED patients, according to MedStar physician Zach Hettinger.

Without a doubt, the healthcare industry can’t afford to have its IT infrastructure creating new categories of safety errors or even making mistake-ridden documentation more common. Not only does this defeat the key goals for putting EHRs in place (improving care quality and efficiency), it could lead to a net increase in safety problems.

But as peanut-gallery observers like myself have been shouting for ages, the answer to the problem is fairly straightforward. EHR user interaction design has to be improved dramatically, and soon. This isn’t exactly a secret, but it seems that the issue is still treated largely as an academic discussion rather than one of immediate practical importance for providers.

I’m not sure why we haven’t made more progress on the user experience front in EHR design – or rather, which of the reasons can actually be addressed in our lifetime – but something’s gotta give.