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HIT Errors 'Tip of the Iceberg,' Says ECRI

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 5, 2013

Healthcare systems' transitions from paper records to electronic ones are causing harm and in so many serious ways, providers are only now beginning to understand the scope.

Computer programs truncated dosage fields, leading to morphine-caused respiratory arrest; lab test and transplant surgery records didn't talk to each other, leading to organ rejection and patient death; and an electronic systems' misinterpretation of the time "midnight" meant an infant received antibiotics one dangerous day too late.

These are among the 171 health information technology malfunctions and disconnects that caused or could have caused patient harm in a report to the ECRI Institute's Patient Safety Organization. Thirty-six participating hospitals reported the data under a special voluntary program conducted last year.

Karen Zimmer, MD, medical director of the institute, says the reports of so many types of errors and harm got the staff's attention in part because the program captured so many serious errors within just a nine-week project last spring.

The volume of errors in the voluntary reports was she says, "an awareness raiser."

"If we're seeing this much under a voluntary reporting program, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg; we know these events are very much underreported."

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