EHR and the Ebola Death – What Went Wrong?

The crucial test for any network or information system is the ability to perform well under real world stress conditions. Even while CMS and other federal agencies have been trying their best to drive adoptions of EHRs, several critics have voiced concerns. From doctors whose productivity has been hampered to hospital managers struggling to implement EHRs across various specializations, many people felt that EHRs are not going to help when it is most crucial.


Such doubts appear to have been vindicated when news spread of the first patient to die of Ebola within the United States in Dallas (Reported by Medscape, October 2014). The patient was sent home from the hospital with antibiotics as the doctor did not recognize his symptoms at first. He was later admitted when his condition worsened, where he eventually died. The hospital released a statement blaming the EHR system – by popular vendor Epic – as the root cause for the death.


How can the EHR system be to blame? Officials state that the travel history of the patient – he had just returned from Liberia – was not shown in the physician workflow, leading to a misdiagnosis and thus delayed hospitalization. However, shortly afterward a second statement was released to the public where the hospital said there was no software flaw in the EHR.


So what actually went wrong inside the system? Was the EHR to blame or not? From the latest available information, it is evident that EHR software was not to blame and that officials were too quick to jump to the earlier conclusions. Since the relevant travel history was in fact shown in the physician workflow, the error did not occur due to a systemic flaw. It would be more accurate to say that there had been a breakdown in communication between the members of the hospital team.


Although EHRs do have flaws and are continuously being improved, no software product can replace real time, face-to-face communication between nurses, doctors and other care providers. Software cannot recognize intent or update itself to changing health scenarios, at least not yet. What EHRs are doing is to enable speedier/accurate diagnoses by providing efficient access to all the relevant information. But an EHR cannot help if the user is too busy to view available data or simply chooses to ignore system generated alerts etc.


For busy dental professionals, time is of the essence and that is why Dovetail dental software provides a mobile and easy to use interface. Dovetail’s electronic dental record and practice management solution allows doctors to view relevant data when they need it, without being overwhelmed by unnecessary minutiae.





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