Warning Signs For EMRs

We’ve looked at Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) before. We’ve discussed the real-world challenges, the potential benefits, and the realistic timelines for deployment. We have briefly looked at the potential drawbacks, like data theft, identity theft, data manipulation, and other malicious acts. But one thing that we have not seen much in the press is the possibility of data errors in EMRs. It is one thing when a database application makes a mistake with a magazine subscription or a gym membership, but it can be a matter of life and death when an EMR system makes a mistake.

On March 3rd, 2010, The VA (possibly the largest user of EMRs so far) issued a safety alert, indicating that their EMR system was occasionally delivering incorrect patient data (reported here on nextGov.com). The problem was first discovered when a female patient’s medical history indicated that she had been given a prescription for Erectile Dysfunction. The database application was occasionally jumbling information from different patients when doctors requested specific types of history data.

The good part of this story is that the problem was detected, the alerts were sent out quickly, and no patient was harmed. The disturbing part of this story is that the EMR support staff was unable to find the cause of the problem until this week (in a different report on nextGov.com). It took more than seven weeks to even discern the source of the problem. Now they expect “the fix to be installed sometime next month.”

There are clear benefits to EMRs, in efficiency, speed, accuracy, and cost savings. But these systems are very complex, and need to be monitored and audited to be sure that they are accurate.

KwikMed has always kept all of its patient records in electronic form. Our entire operation is run from a sophisticated set of database applications, which are backed up, secured and audited continuously. We have several layers of constantly-evolving security and verification. We are ready to integrate with EMR technology, as soon as the industry settles on some standards of interoperability, security, accuracy, and patient-safety.