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Are EMRs Bad For Your Health?

In an article on the Huffington Post, the FDA is quoted as saying that errors attributed to the use of electronic medical record systems were responsible for dozens of injuries and six patient deaths. This, say critics of EMR, flies in the face of the assumption that adoption of EMR/EHR will improve patient safety and save lives. Some university studies have looked specifically at hospital-based systems and found that some of them had actually caused more adverse drug events than would have been expected, especially since these systems are supposed to have fail-safe mechanisms against just such occurrences.

EMR critics say that because of financial incentives from the government, the widespread adoption of EMR is outpacing the ability to vet these systems, and that some hospitals and healthcare providers may be acquiring software that is faulty. Some sort of oversight is recommended in order to ensure patient safety. As Ross Koppel, a sociology professor at University of Pennsylvania puts it, “Faith-based EHRs won’t get us into heaven.”

However, the majority of adverse events occur in the universe of paper records. The main difference between paper and electronic charts is the facility with which the latter can be dissected and analyzed. Few doubt that, in general, electronic medical records systems will reduce medical error and improve the quality of care. But the onus is on the practitioner to practice due diligence when it comes to selection of the software that will have a major impact on the care of his or her patients.

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