Safety performance of EHRs vary widely
Despite the broad adoption and optimization of electronic health records over a 10-year period, researchers reported “wide variation” in the safety performance of operational EHR systems.
David C. Classen, MD, MS, research professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Utah, and colleagues noted that EHRs have been used to safeguard against medical errors, but recent evidence suggests that medication safety and overall safety problems are “still unacceptably high.”
Researchers analyzed data from the National Quality Forum Health IT Safety Measure — a computerized physician order entry and EHR safety test — from 2009 to 2018. The test uses simulated medication orders that have either injured or killed patients in the past to determine how well hospital EHRs can identify those errors. Most of the 2,314 hospitals that participated had 100 to 399 beds; were part of a health care system; were located in urban areas; had private, nonprofit ownership; and/or were in the Southern United States. All hospitals had at least 1 year of test results.
Researchers found that among 8,657 hospital-years, mean scores on the overall test increased “modestly” from 53.9% (standard deviation, 18.3%) in 2009 to 65.6% (standard deviation, 15.4%) in 2018. During the same timeframe, mean hospital scores for basic clinical decision support increased from 69.8% (standard deviation, 20.8%) to 85.6% (standard deviation, 14.9%), and scores for categories representing advanced clinical decision support rose from 29.6% in 2009 (standard deviation, 22.4%) to 46.1% (standard deviation, 21.6%).
Classen and colleagues emphasized that there was significant variation in safety performance across vendors, and vendor choice explained about 10% of the variation they observed.
“One of the selling points by EHR vendors to physicians was that these systems would markedly improve the safety of care for their patients,” Classen told Healio Primary Care. “This was felt to justify the expenses and big impact on physician workflow. Our study shows that is not the case. This is important because physicians have come to rely on the system to assure their patients get safe care.”
In a related editorial, Raj M. Ratwani, PhD, director of the MedStar Health National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare, encouraged hospitals and other health care facilities to immediately begin using existing EHR safety assessment test case scenarios regularly, particularly after EHR system downtimes, upgrades, or other changes “to advance EHR safety.” He added that long-term solutions include making EHR safety assessment methods part of a hospital’s accreditation process.