A few weeks ago 21 horses of the Venezuelan Polo Team mysteriously died at the US Open Polo Champion Tournament in Florida. In the time since the tragic events unfolded, a Florida pharmacy admitted it created the wrong dosage of a mineral supplement for the animals. It’s unclear if the dosage mistake was due to a pharmacy error, or if the incorrect amount was specified in a prescription from the team’s veterinarian.

 

So what does any of this have to do with Electronic Medical Records? More than you might think. Medical errors whether veterinary or human, do happen- often with tragic consequences. What are the most common such medical errors? Improper dosages of medication, or problems with drug interactions. Ironically, these are the types of errors that can be most easily prevented through the use of EHRs. 

Back in March during an emotionally charged segment on the Oprah Winfrey show actor Dennis Quaid said how having a comprehensive nationwide electronic medical record system in place could have prevented the dosage error that nearly killed his infant twins. Quaid also delivered a Keynote speech on the matter at the recent HIMSS09 show in Chicago.  On the Oprah appearance Quaid tearfully described how his babies were given nearly 1000 times the required dose of a blood thinning medication, due to an illegible paper prescription. It is stories like Quaid’s that have likely lead to the only known firm criterion for “meaningful use” of EHRs as defined by the HITECH Act – ePrescribing. 

Hospitals nationwide are hearing Quaid’s message. For example, all of the hospitals of the Detroit Medical Center have gone paperless. In fact they have had the kind of EHRs Quaid is advocating running in all of their facilities since 2007. 

The EHR, which should be held up as an example for the nation, requires that physician’s orders, test results, and other patient records all be collected and processed online. The Medical Center claims that the technology reduces the risk of potentially dangerous medication errors by up to 90 percent, since it strictly prohibits all handwriting in the prescribing and dispensing of drugs. 

The Chief Medical Information Officer at DMC said there is also a great deal of evidence to show that EHR systems reduce medical errors. He pointed to recent national studies that show that at least 7 percent of hospital patients are affected by medical errors, but effectively managed EHR systems can eliminate most of them.