Mar 19, 2019

Where electronic health records went wrong

Nurses use the IT system at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Brookline, Mass. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Electronic health records were supposed to revolutionize the U.S. health care system, saving money and improving quality in one fell swoop. The actual results are much less satisfying. And so Kaiser Health News took a very deep dive into what went wrong.

The big picture: Doctors hate most of these systems. That's what a lot of this comes down to. The theoretical benefits of EHRs are/were real, but KHN offers many examples of how difficult they are to use in practice.

  • One system deleted everything doctors typed in between brackets, which they didn’t know would happen.
  • Others complained about the number of options in the drop-down menu they use to prescribe Tylenol; apparently, 1 in 1,000 accidentally prescribe a suppository instead of a pill.
  • Prescribing ibuprofen to a female patient always brings up a warning about the dangers of prescribing it to pregnant women, even if the patient is a child or a senior.
  • As KHN puts it: "The average ER doc will make 4,000 mouse clicks over the course of a shift, and that the odds of doing anything 4,000 times without an error is small."

Between the lines: Even some strong EHR proponents say the 2009 stimulus flooded the sector with too much money and too many demands too quickly.

  • "This is something the government mandated," one ER doctor told KHN. "There really wasn't the time to let the cream rise to the top; everyone had to jump in and pick something that worked and spend tens of millions of dollars on a system that is slowly killing us."

Go deeper: The pitfalls of electronic health records

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