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How Health Tech Could Put Patients' Safety at Risk


The tech must be used properly, or there can be harmful consequences.


ECRI Institute has found that for the second year in a row, diagnostic errors and improper management of test results in electronic health records (EHRs) is the most serious patient safety challenge facing healthcare leaders, according to its Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for 2019 report.

The annual report is created to help organizations proactively identify and respond to threats to patient safety and uses data regarding events and concerns and on expert judgment. The list offers insight on potential new risks in health systems, existing concerns that are changing due to the implementation of new technology or care delivery models and persistent issues that need focused attention.

Among the top 10 were diagnostic errors and improper management of test results in EHRs, physician burnout and its impact on patient safety and patient safety concerns involving mobile health (mHealth).

Improper Management of Test Results in EHRs

Healthcare providers are relying heavily on EHRs to help with clinical decision support, to track test results and to flag issues. But the systems are only part of the solution — EHRs will not identify all of the key elements and analyze them to give physicians a correct diagnosis.


There are three key components that must be properly communicated in the EHR: the diagnosis, the treatment plan and the follow-up plan.

Faulty information or missing test results could lead to an increased risk of making a diagnostic error. And medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to Marcus Schabacker, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of ECRI Institute.

To mitigate the problem, providers need to fully use the EHR designed to meet their practices’ needs and recognize the importance of clear communication among caregivers and between caregivers and patients. If the diagnosis is not right, proper care cannot follow.

“We have to recognize the limits of current technology and ensure that we have processes in place to close the loop on diagnostic tests,” said William Marella, executive director of operations and analytics at ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization.

How Physician Burnout Can Impact Patient Safety

Burnout affects nearly half of all doctors in the U.S. and impacts trainees, nurses, healthcare providers and executives alike. Physicians also


experience more burnout than the general population, with 43.9 percent of U.S. physicians showing at least one symptom in 2017. And studies show that burnout has a negative relationship with safety and quality.

EHRs have been said to fuel burnout and the rapid evolution of the healthcare landscape can make it challenging for physicians to keep up. Physicians are caring for an increasing number of patients with complex conditions and limited resources to pull from.

Technology has the potential to help physicians, but only if they are trained on how to use it properly and only if it is implemented into their workflows effectively.

To further address the issue, organizations need to listen to providers’ concerns about workload and efficiency, performance criteria and suboptimal resource allocation.

While it is the patient’s goals that are most important, if physicians are suffering from burnout, the patient’s safety is at risk.

Using mHealth Apps Safely

The rise of digitization in healthcare has brought a plethora of digital health platforms to the surface.


Now, patients have access to mHealth apps that can help them overcome substance use disorder and positively change their mental and emotional health.

Like all technology though, these apps can be dangerous.

There is a lack of regulation of new technologies, barriers to ensuring providers are getting accurate data from the device and an inability to know if the technology is being used correctly.

The technology needs to be simple to use and should inform clinicians about user error and inactivity.

“Along with assessing ease of use, organizations must identify the right candidates for (mHealth) and provide training for both providers and patients on how to use a device,” the authors wrote.

It is also essential that providers match the patient’s health conditions to the right piece of technology.

Addressing Safety Concerns

The direction of healthcare is exciting, with new innovations being developed to help improve patient outcomes.

But in order to have better outcomes, these safety concerns need to be handled within health systems and organizations.

ECRI suggests that the list be used by health executives as a starting point for patient safety discussions and setting priorities. Health executives should develop strategies to mitigate patient safety risks, such as educating providers and patients about mHealth solutions, allowing physicians to have a say in the implementation of new technologies into their workflows and findings ways to leverage the EHR to see the best results.

If these issues are not highlighted and talked about, the patient’s safety will be at an increased risk.

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