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EHRs with poor usability more likely to miss medical errors


Report shows the importance of ease-of-use for physicians

EHR usability issues can hurt patient safety: ©Wright Studio

EHR usability issues can hurt patient safety: ©Wright Studio

Research from the University of Utah Health system shows the importance of ease-of-use for physicians. Their findings suggest that EHRs that are difficult to use result in more missed medical errors that could harm patients. The research appeared in JAMA Network Open.

As physicians use EHR systems, they often face pop-ups with alerts, reminders, and clinical care guidelines. But many doctors find these notifications to be more distracting than helpful, and could be designed better.

The researchers say their findings point to the need to improve EHR systems to make them easier to use and safer. Previous research showed that EHRs failed to reliably detect medical errors that could harm patients, including dangerous drug interactions. Experts had hoped that moving to EHRs would help reduce the number of people injured from medical errors – estimated to be as many as 400,000 annually.

Researchers studied EHR systems in 112 U.S. hospitals and compared results from an EHR experience survey taken by more than 5,600 clinicians with outcomes from an EHR safety evaluation tool.

According to the study, the user experience strongly correlated with EHR safety. When users rated a system poorly, common complaints were that the systems were difficult to operate, hard to learn, slow, or inefficient. When these complaints occurred, those EHR systems were less likely to flag drug interactions, patient drug allergies, duplicate orders, excessive dosing, or other medical errors.

The report notes that a lack of quality control may be to blame, because individual hospitals modify EHR operability to meet their specific needs, and some may sacrifice safety. There are currently no standards for EHR usability and safety, so even though health care providers may think the systems are safe, that may not be the case.

Researchers recommend that a collaborative effort among EHR vendors, hospitals, and physicians may help optimize EHR software for better usability and safety.

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