Does technology really reduce medical errors?

In an effort to reduce the number of medical errors and streamline medicine, the federal government is giving monetary incentives to those medical facilities that adopt the practice of keeping electronic medical records. The idea is that these electronic records will help reduce the number of medical mistakes made and increase proficiency.

However, not all are convinced that quickly adopting the use of electronic medical records is the way to go.

Dr. Scot Silverstein, a physician and professor at Drexel University, is one who is really questioning just how safe so quickly adopting to electronic medical records really is. He would like to see more testing of these products before they are put into action.

He points to one instance where flawed software led to a hospital dosing out the wrong type of medication to patients. In this case, patients should have been given stronger, time-release pills, but were being given shorter pills with a lower dosage. In that case, while there were no reported adverse reactions for patients, the danger associated with relying on technology was present.

Other issues since the adoption of electronic medical records have also included computers logging medical information for the wrong patients and the 2010 death of a baby due to a data-entry error.

In terms of errors voluntarily reported to the Food and Drug Administration, researchers have found 44 injuries and six deaths associated with computer errors.

For Silverstein, he’s not discrediting how helpful technology could be; rather he just wants to see more testing before these processes are adopted are on such a large scale. Already, roughly 4,000 hospitals have digital records or are in the process of adopting keeping electronic medical records. One research firm even found that 70 percent of doctors asked have already made the switch.

Looking to the future, with incentives from the government to adopt the use of technology, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase or decrease in medical errors.

What do you think? Is technology helpful, or will it cause more harm than good?

Source: Kaiser Health News, “Health Technology’s ‘Essential Critic’ Warns Of Medical Mistakes,” Jay Hancock, Feb. 18, 2013