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Hospital disclosures highlight electronic records' growing pains

The push across the medical industry in recent years that has focused upon supplanting paper records with electronic health records (EHRs), with New Jersey providers being no exception, has often been touted as revolutionary.

The transformation, advocates routinely state, is marked by game-changing technology that is reducing costs, streamlining the information stream and, most importantly, improving patient care and outcomes.

And now for the critics.

One of those -- among many -- is the ECRI Institute, a national and independently run group of researchers focused on optimizing all aspects of patient care, from cost to quality.

One of ECRI's many efforts is working with hospitals that, pursuant to federal legislation, voluntarily report medical errors at their facilities that stem from information technology glitches. The inclination of those hospitals to do so flows from their immunity to legal discovery and lawsuits. The idea is to promote honesty about problems and errors, with legislators and safety regulators believing that identification of problem areas must precede fixes.

ECRI scrutinizes the data, looking for acute problems and trends and making recommendations for improvements.

What the institute's researchers say they are noting with increased concern is that, regarding EHRs, there is a lot of improving to do.

Karen Zimmer, the ECRI medical director, says that the high number of EHR-related errors voluntarily reported to the institute, and their diverse nature, renders researchers certain that "this is just the tip of the iceberg" and that underreported adverse incidents are rampant.

Problems owe to a number of causes, including these: software that incorrectly reads dosing and patient data; different vendors supplying services within the same EHR systems; upgrades that are not uniformly and consistently undertaken; lab tests that are not properly identified and forwarded; and human data-entering errors.

Results of those disconnects have led to fatal medication errors, failure to diagnose serious conditions, surgical mistakes and many other adverse outcomes.

Zimmer says the type and scope of errors seen through voluntary hospital reporting underscores how important that reporting is, even if error disclosure is far from comprehensive.

"[It] affords us the chance to focus health systems' attention on these issues," she says, "and suggest some strategies."

Source: HealthLeaders Media, "HIT errors 'tip of the iceberg,' says ECRI," Cheryl Clark, April 15, 2013

  • Medical negligence encompasses a wide spectrum of errors, including the failure to properly diagnose a condition or illness, medication error and other mistakes. Our firm provides rigorous representation to persons who sustain personal injuries resulting from hospital negligence and medical malpractice. For relevant information, please visit our Bergen County, New Jersey, Medical Malpractice page.

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$7.4 Billion Medicaid Recovery

Breslin and Breslin, PA, Donald A. Caminiti, Esq., was one of six law firms selected by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey to act as special counsel to represent it in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recover Medicaid and other health related costs incurred by the state resulting from tobacco related illnesses.