Better Information Means Safer Health Care
Health information technology (health IT) can play an important role in increasing patient safety by virtue of the information contained in the electronic health record (EHR) and the features (error-checking, notifications, etc) systems use to ensure high quality care. As just one example, a Congressional Budget Office study estimated that EHRs could reduce prescribing errors by up to 95 percent.
Specifically, EHRs can enhance patient safety and provide safer health care through:
- Comprehensiveness: EHRs can offer a more complete picture of your health to your doctors than paper records. This information can give doctors the information they need to evaluate your current condition in the context of your health history and other treatments you may be receiving.
- Speed: In a crisis, EHRs can give those providing your care instant access to information about your medical history, allergies, and prescriptions they can use to make appropriate decisions sooner, instead of waiting for information from test results.
- Flagging potential conflicts: Many EHRs incorporate warning systems to inform doctors when they order a medication that could interact with something you already take. This information can prompt doctors to explore alternatives before a problem occurs.
- Verifying medications and dosages: Many e-prescribing systems incorporate a verification system that checks the barcode on a medication against the drug name and dosage information on the original prescription, helping pharmacists avoid dispensing the wrong medication.
- Reducing the need to repeat risky tests and procedures: Even the safest medical tests and procedures carry risk. Having a comprehensive EHR can reduce the risk of repeating them unnecessarily, leading to safer health care.
Maintaining realistic expectations
Any health record — paper-based or electronic — is only as good as the information it contains and how that information is used. On their own, EHRs will not eliminate all medical errors and cannot ensure that patients always get the most effective treatment. Computerized systems, in health care as in any other area, are not perfect. For example, the EHR used by one group of doctors or hospitals may not communicate easily with the system used by another provider group. The Federal government is trying to solve this problem with financial incentives that encourage the development of systems that work together (also called “interoperability”).
For providers, changing from paper-based to electronic systems represents an enormous undertaking. In some ways, it’s like switching from an old-fashioned typewriter to a word processor. Not surprisingly, the complexity of the transition can itself create problems for some patients. Regardless of how your records are stored today and will be stored tomorrow, partnering with your physician and remaining engaged in every aspect of your health and health care are important to your health.
Do your part to prevent medical errors in your care.
Find out what the government is doing to ease the transition to EHRs for health care providers.