Which group is causing more healthcare IT system errors: humans or computers?

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Hand fist on computer keyboardAs providers race to implement healthcare IT amid calls by some organizations to extend the deadlines for meeting criteria set down by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, a new report by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority highlighting safety pitfalls could ruffle some feathers.

It raises the question of who or what is responsible for these healthcare system errors being made by providers and other healthcare facilities. Are healthcare professionals still making the same sort of errors they would if they were putting pen to paper medical records or are our plastic and silicon helpers to blame? Or is it a combination of both?

Although computer systems were behind more than half (56 percent) of the errors, humans were not far behind with 44 percent. Of the 211 problems from 171 events surveyed by healthcare facilities, 105 or 61 percent were not caught until they reached the patient. The five most frequently cited problems were:

  • Inad­equate data transfer from one health IT system to another.
  • Data entry in the wrong patient record.
  • Incorrect data entry in the patient record.
  • Failure of the healthcare IT sys­tem to function as intended.
  • Configuration of the system in a way that can lead to mistakes.

As highlighted by an earlier study, medication management was the prime culprit, accounting for more than half of the events (53 percent). For computer problems a little more than one quarter were caused by problems with the system interfaces, preventing healthcare professionals from ordering test findings when they wanted them, delaying the time it took to get them.


For humans, incorrectly entered information or information that wasn’t entered at all was the cause of the majority of errors. What makes the report a little disconcerting is the computerized physician order entry (CPOE) was associated with many of the errors. The absence of an undecipherable scrawl by physicians in this section is supposed to reduce errors. But whether it’s fat fingers or people pushed for time, it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made and more vigilance required.

Although it’s a near cert that using electronic medical records to provide healthcare is the best alternative, some of the things that make them so desirable — transparency, the ability of more people to view the same information and that they are more immediately accessible — also means that any mistakes in these records risks being amplified. In response, it has produced a toolkit to help groups test their systems and a list of what to monitor. I’ll highlight some of those in another story on this report.


[Photo credit: Hand fist on computer keyboard from BigStock Photo]


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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for MedCityNews.com. She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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