A recent study looked at the idea that including a patient’s headshot in the EHR could reduce order entry errors. Although providers typically place orders on the correct patient greater than 99.9% of the time, researchers wanted to address the remaining 0.1%. The study was performed in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital over a two-year period. They concluded that “wrong patient” orders were 35% lower for those patients who had a photo in the EHR compared to those who didn’t.
Although I’m supportive of the concept, I’d like to offer my own shortlist of solutions for error reduction in the EHR. Unfortunately, all of these were scenarios I’ve encountered in the last few weeks seeing patients. For the ones that are specific to the EHR (as opposed to operations or staffing), I’m not sure if the issue is truly caused by the EHR or by my group’s implementation of it. Because they so tightly control access to the vendor’s documentation, I have no way of knowing.
Medication Order Entry
Formularies should be configured to only support appropriate routes of administration. For example, in my EHR, if I select a medication to be prescribed to a pharmacy, I’m limited to the routes that are appropriate for the drug. Eye drops only display “ophthalmic,” oral medications only display “oral,” skin creams display “topical,” etc. It’s physically impossible for me to accidentally tell a patient to take their amoxicillin tablet topically unless I personally type it in the free text notes to pharmacy box, and even then, the pharmacy is going to catch it. For our in-house medications, however, some of them have options that aren’t appropriate, such as an IV push route of administration for drugs that should never be administered that way. It’s easy to click the wrong button, but removing the button would make the error impossible.
Similarly, doses should be hard coded so you can’t goof them up. If the office protocol is to prescribe famotidine 20mg IV every single time and to never use a different dose, why are we presented with a free-text field where we have to hand type it every time? We also have an issue where the in-house prescribing screen has navigation issues. You can’t tab from field to field, but rather have to move your hand back and forth from the mouse to the keyboard, which increases the chances that you might accidentally type “30” or “10” rather than “20” in the field if you’re in a hurry.
Orders should also be linked to avoid errors of omission. For example, if I’m ordering a liter of normal saline for IV hydration, I shouldn’t also have to order an IV catheter. I guarantee no one is going to try to do a straight venous injection of saline – of course they’re going to use an IV catheter. The system should also default timed infusions where appropriate. If the practice requires all infusions to be administered for at least 31 minutes in order to play the CMS coding game, then why not default 31 rather than making each of us type it every time?
Discrete Data Fields Should Be Appropriately Discrete
I cringe every time I have to document vital signs in our EHR. Blood pressure is a single field and requires the user to type the “/” in the middle and has no limitation on the field size. If my tech is having a bad day, I can get things like “180/1000” and the system doesn’t bat an eye (although it does flag it in red, at least). Someone at the vendor must have missed the memo on usability and not having a color change be the only indicator of an alert, though, because there is no other flag on the screen.
Especially for something like a blood pressure that you might want to graph or trend, the numbers should be captured separately, and the fields should be limited to reduce the risk of nonsense data entry. We have similar issues with height fields that aren’t configured to block nonsense entries. If someone doesn’t notice there are separate fields for feet and inches, you end up with patients that are 67 feet tall rather than 5’7” or 67 inches. Don’t get me started on our lack of use of the metric system with pediatric patients, which is the gold standard trained at most academic medical centers.
Use Technology to Assign Diagnoses That Make Sense to Both Provider and Patient
I’m a huge fan of systems that map ICD codes to patient-friendly and clinician-friendly terminology. Patients don’t want to see “R42: Dizziness and giddiness” documented on their charts. They want to see “vertigo” or “dizziness” or “lightheadedness” as appropriate with the ICD code behind the scenes. This is a pretty straightforward example, but there are dozens of wild and wacky codes and descriptions out there. Physicians hate it and I’m sure other clinicians do too. Patients end up with the wrong diagnosis on the chart when the provider struggles to find the correct one. Kudos to the IT folks who installed “the good stuff” technology wise to prevent this issue.
Use Technology to Keep Up with the Times
My EHR still does not have patient instructions for COVID. It’s ridiculous at this point. I diagnosed my first patient eight and a half months ago.
Reduce or Eliminate the Need for Multi-tasking Behaviors
This isn’t an EHR issue per se, but it’s the root of many of the errors we see. Clinicians need to be supported by their organizations and not expected to see patient volumes that are unsafe. Looking back to the pre-COVID world, my organization placed constant pressure on us to make sure that more than 95% of our patients were treated and released in under an hour. Sometimes that meant having one provider trying to juggle care for up to 15 patients depending on the number of rooms at the clinic. This can only lead to disaster depending on the experience of the clinician and the acuity of the patients’ issues. All staffing is driven by dollar signs, however, regardless of where you work.
One good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that they’ve capped the number of patients that can be roomed at a time based on the number of support staff, which means I rarely manage more than six patients at a time. It’s been a godsend and I can’t help but think it’s helped reduce errors, but at times it can still be unrealistic, especially when the patients are really sick and have a lot of labs and tests to manage. I have no idea whether those caps will stay in place as the pandemic eases, but I’m hopeful.
What error reduction strategies has your organization employed, or what seems obvious but hasn’t yet been implemented? Leave a comment or email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.