Epic, eClinicalWorks, NextGen. These are among the many Electronic Health Record (EHR) software makers coming under fire for causing medical errors and even patient death. In recent years, whistleblowers, lawsuits, and state and federal investigations tried to draw attention to widespread EHR system errors. They flagged internal flaws, poor design, inexplicable glitches and "mind-numbing" drop down menus that are causing mistakes, patient death, and leading to burnout and early physician retirement. No one in the marketplace is satisfied. But the cases are quietly settling before stakeholders in the system, including doctors, their patients, or taxpayers who funded much of these systems, have good information about the scope of the problem.
Physician orders for critical tests never get successfully transmitted. Medication lists are full of errors, listing wrong start and stop dates, dosages for the wrong patient, "lost" prescriptions, and omit key drug interactions.
"It’s about a trouble-prone industry that intersects, in the most personal way, with every one of our lives. It’s about a $3.7 trillion health care system idling at the crossroads of progress. And it’s about a slew of unintended consequences — the surprising casualties of a big idea whose time had seemingly come," says Kaiser Health News in this article.
For now, individual patient vigilance is the best way to catch and reverse the course of these medical errors being caused by the very systems that were meant to reduce medical charting mistakes in the first place. Review your own records, take notes during all encounters, and when a test or medication or diagnosis is wrong, bring it to the physician's attention. Everyone will be glad you did.
The causes of these problems may provide the explanation for why they persist: a rush to implementation, and tens of billions of dollars at stake for software companies. As was the case with eClinicalWorks, in an industry worth $36 billion, what is a $115 million settlement except a foreseeable cost of doing business.
“Poor interface design and poor implementations can lead to errors and sometimes death, and that is just unbelievably bad as well as completely fixable."