Technology: Causing Medical Errors Instead of Preventing Them


Despite being born 16 weeks early, baby Genesis was quickly adapting to life outside the womb. His parents were thrilled with his progress until his recovery took a tragic turn. His mother was told to come to the hospital immediately, where she saw CPR being administered to her son. After 40 minutes, Genesis was pronounced dead.

What caused the sudden change in Genesis’ health? – A huge overdose of sodium chloride. How did it happen? The wrong data was entered into a computer program by a pharmacy technician processing an electronic IV order. The automatic alerts built into the IV compounding machine were not activated.

Although not the first time new medical technologies have contributed to potential medical malpractice, the case of baby Genesis highlights some of the problems as technology is being more heavily integrated into hospitals.

New Technologies Introduce New Opportunities for Medical Errors

Unfortunately medical errors related to computers and electronic data are not uncommon. Although these technologies aim to prevent adverse events by taking human errors out of the equation, technology also has the potential to cause medical errors in other ways. These include: software bugs, computer crashes, user error due to inadequate training, and problems as information is transferred from one electronic system to another.

In just the voluntary reports submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there were 370 reports of problems with health information technologies since the beginning of 2008. These errors were responsible for multiple patient injuries and deaths. For example, a patient died after a network problem delayed the transmission of a critical diagnostic image. Other problems included vital signs disappearing from monitors, and patients’ allergy information not being carried over during a computer update.

Dr. Ashish Jha, an associate professor from Harvard University’s School of Public Health, highlighted the concern, “Technologies can be enormously helpful, but what is emerging is that when implemented poorly, they can be harmful.”

The importance of this issue is only likely to grow. The federal government is providing $23 billion in incentives to encourage medical providers to purchase new technologies to implement electronic medical records or automate drug orders.

Source: Baby’s death spotlights safety risks linked to computerized systems

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