Blog | Thursday, January 15, 2009

A story that's not going to sell EMRs


I've been to conference sessions where the Veterans Administration was held up as a sort of gold standard for electronic medical records--they've had them longer and used them more than most docs and hospitals. Now it turns out that the VA might not be such a shining example, after all.

An investigation by Congress and the AP just revealed that software glitches in the VA's EMR have resulted in health records being associated with the wrong patient and several medication errors, including overuse of heparin. First, it's scary that this happened. Second, it's scary that the VA kept it quiet. And the third scary thing is the VA's response. A quote from a VA official (via the AP): "VA believes that veterans are active partners in their health care, and encourages patients to always follow up with their health care teams to ensure that their treatment options meet their understanding and their health care needs." So the responsibility is on the patients to make sure that the hospital's computers aren't malfunctioning? Come on.

The real question, though, is how many other EMRs have similar glitches. Obviously plenty of mistakes happen on paper, too, but can anything match the myriad ways computers can screw things up without anyone noticing?