Baby’s Death Highlights Risks Associated with Electronic Medical Data

Posted on July 13, 2011

With the shift toward computerized medical records to reduce medical malpractice, this story in The Los Angeles Times shows that human error can still influence a patient’s outcome. A baby was born 16 weeks premature in a hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, when a pharmacy technician typed the wrong information into a computer screen. The baby received an automatic intravenous solution of sodium chloride — more than 60 times the amount ordered by the physician. The baby’s heart stopped and he died.

An investigation by the hospital found the label on the IV bag did not reflect its accurate contents. A tech assumed the baby’s high sodium readings were inaccurate. And a technician prepared the order by hand rather than through the hospitals electronic ordering system. This tragedy shows safety risks and medical errors are only as good as the technicians using the computers.

The federal government is providing $23 billion in incentives so providers will purchase electronic medical records or computers that automate drug dispensing and medical processes in hopes of improving medical care and communication, therefore safety. Electronics can alert medical providers about dangerous drug interactions and the recommended medical practices. Unfortunately, humans are not machines and sometimes ignore alerts if they are frequent. Medical systems are poorly designed and don’t necessarily talk to each other.

As of December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 370 reports of problems with health information technology over the last two years including injuries and deaths. These adverse events reports are voluntary so the numbers may be underestimated. For example:

  • The Los Angeles Times report a patient died after the computer network delayed sending an important image
  • Vital signs have disappeared from patient monitors
  • A wrong name entered electronically means the wrong patient received therapy he was not supposed to receive
  • Information about patient allergies went missing from a patient’s medical records after an update

By 2012, an Institute of Medicine panel should issue some recommendations. A number of surveys have show there are about 200,000 avoidable patient deaths from misdiagnosis, drug overdoses, and preventable infection, and this is before the introduction of medical technology and communication systems.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a medical error in Florida, Farah & Farah has a long history of holding wrongdoers accountable for their errors. Call our medical malpractice attorneys in Jacksonville for a complimentary consultation and understand there is a limited time within which to file an action.

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