Are EHRs to Blame in the Dallas Ebola Case?

With the enormous amount of data being collected and entered into EHRs, the human brain (in this case the physician brain) is probably tuning out information that would probably stay if there was a conversation with the patient instead.

Although Thomas Eric Duncan informed Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when he arrived with a fever and other symptoms that he had traveled to West Africa, he was sent home. But was an electronic health record (EHR) to blame for the fact that someone did not connect the dots between the patient and the Ebola virus?

After Mr Duncan was readmitted back to the hospital and he had tested positive for the virus, the hospital placed the blame for the botched diagnosis on a flaw on its EHR from Epic.

“Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurses,” the hospital released in a statement. “However, we have identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR) interacted in this specific case.”

The hospital then pointed to the separate physician and nursing workflows, which meant the patient’s travel history—located in the nursing workflow portion—did not appear automatically in the physician’s workflow.

However, the hospital quickly backtracked the next day to clarify that “there was no flaw in the EHR in the way the physician and nursing portions interacted related to this event.”

This means that when the patient’s travel history to West Africa was documented, the information was available to the full care team.

However, the confusion surrounding the effectiveness of the hospital’s EHR raises the question of what other issues could be missed?

“Even scarier than that mistake, though, is the certainty that similar ones lie in wait for all of us who cope with medical information stored in digital piles grown so gigantic, unwieldy and unreadable that sometimes we wind up working with no information at all,” Abigail Zuger, MD, wrote in The New York Times.

With the enormous amount of data being collected and entered into EHRs, the human brain (in this case the physician brain) is probably tuning out information that would probably stay if there was a conversation with the patient instead, she contends.

Read Dr Zuger's full commentary on The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1p8Rfht