Electronic health records can help make patient care more efficient and accurate, but they can still be the source of errors, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.
The authority has published an advisory after investigating more than 300 events from electronic health records related to default settings.
"Default values are often used to add standardization and efficiency to hospital information systems," said Erin Sparnon, patient safety analyst for the authority. "For example, a healthy patient using a pain medication after surgery would receive a certain medication, dose and delivery of the medication already preset by the health care facility within the EHR system for that type of surgery."
Sparnon said, however, that such defaults can cause harm if not used appropriately.
Sparnon said the events were investigated as a result of a study late last year on medical errors, which showed default setting were an area where errors could occur.
"We may have found a small percentage of the iceberg," she said. "There is a lot of interest right now in making [electronic health records] safer, but we found there wasn't much data. This was about filling the data gap."
Common errors included medication given at the wrong time or in the wrong dose.
Sparnon noted in the report that an "event" doesn't necessarily mean harm came to a patient. In some cases, there was only the potential for harm, while in some cases the patient needed additional hospitalization because of errors.
Sparnon said the intent of the report is to give health care professionals information they can use to prevent errors from occurring in the future.
Details of the report are available at www.patientsafetyauthority.org.