Health technology’s ‘essential critic’ warns of medical mistakes

February 18, 2013 in Medical Technology

By Jay Hancock, KHN Staff Writer

This story was produced in collaboration with

Computer mistakes like the one that produced incorrect prescriptions for thousands of Rhode Island patients are probably far more common and dangerous than the Obama administration wants you to believe, says Drexel University’s Dr. Scot Silverstein.

Flawed software at Lifespan hospital group printed orders for low-dose, short-acting pills when patients should have been taking stronger, time-release ones, the Providence-based system disclosed in 2011. Lifespan says nobody was harmed.

But Silverstein, a physician and adjunct professor of healthcare informatics who is making a name for himself as a strident critic of electronic health records, says the Lifespan breakdown is part of a much larger problem.

[See also: Medical errors continue to dog healthcare.]

“We’re in the midst of a mania right now” as traditional patient charts are switched to computers, he said in an interview in his Lansdale home. “We know it causes harm, and we don’t even know the level of magnitude. That statement alone should be the basis for the greatest of caution and slowing down.”

Use of electronic medical records is speeding up, thanks to $10-billion-and-counting in bounties the federal government is paying to caregivers who adopt them. The consensus among government officials and researchers is that computers will cut mistakes and promote efficiency. So some 4,000 hospitals have or are installing digital records, the Department of Health and Human Services said last month.

Seventy percent of doctors surveyed in September  by research firm CapSite said they had switched to digital data.

But the notion that electronic charts prevent more mistakes than they cause just isn’t proven, Silverstein says. Government doesn’t require caregivers to report problems, he points out, so many computer-induced mistakes may never surface.

[See also: Medical errors continue to dog healthcare.]

He doesn’t discount the potential of digital records to eliminate duplicate scans and alert doctors to drug interactions and unsuspected dangers.

But the rush to implementation has produced badly designed products that may be more likely to confound doctors than enlighten them, he says. Electronic health records, Silverstein believes, should be rigorously tested under government supervision before being launched into life-and-death situations, much like medical hardware or airplanes.

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Article source: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/health-technologys-essential-critic-warns-medical-mistakes

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