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Leaders: EMRs Aren't the Answer to Safety Issues

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 7, 2011

So what are the biggest barriers to better patient safety? Well, not surprisingly a good chunk cited culture (16%) and another chunk put it down to lack of personnel resources (16%). Others blamed lack of physician leadership (11%) or lack of executive leadership commitment (5%).

But the problem most frequently cited as the biggest stumbling block to better patient safety? Poor communication. 

Take a moment to soak in just how bad that communication is: We asked respondents "How often is important patient care information lost during shift changes?" A whopping 69% answered always (56%), often (12%), or sometimes (1%). Only 27% said it rarely happens and only 5% said it never happens.

Here's another one: We asked "How often do things fall through the cracks regarding patient safety when transferring patients from one unit to another?" Again, "sometimes" was the clear winner at 56%.

Do you see the disconnect, here? Electronic data is a solution to what leaders say is their biggest problem. Electronic data doesn't hitch a ride home in the back of a nurse's mind at the end of his or her shift. Electronic data doesn't get lost when it's mixed in with the take-out menu pile and it doesn't get ruined when someone spills coffee on it. 

In short, electronic data doesn't "fall through the cracks" unless you willfully refuse to look at and use it.

This is not to discount human interaction and communication—healthcare is, after all, a very human-centric business. Report advisor James Eastham, president and CEO of Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen, TX, notes that many safety issues could be avoided or minimized with an extra minute or so of one-on-one communications.

But as the survey suggests, communication issues are a "challenge for healthcare," says the lead advisor on the report, COO of Bassett Healthcare Network COO Bertine McKenna. "There are thousands of people who are involved in patient care. Ensuring that we communicate all the key things during handoffs—shift to shift, inpatient to radiology for a test, or floor to floor, to cath lab and back—is a challenge."

Electronic data can improve communication—and, as McKenna puts it, communication and quality go hand-in-hand. "The electronic medical record solutions will help us with this and is an investment in patient care and safety," she says.

According to this survey, at least, there are way too many healthcare leaders out there who don't seem to get that.

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