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Eliminating Medical Error Epidemic Through Technology

(ARA) - When faced with health issues, people are generally concerned with only one thing -- getting well. The quality of their healthcare is rarely questioned since most assume that both their doctors and the facilities they access have the necessary systems to ensure patient safety. Unfortunately, statistics tell a different story.

According to a recent report by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, more than 57,000 Americans die needlessly each year because they do not receive appropriate medical care. The majority die because known conditions, such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, are not adequately monitored and controlled.

For decades, other major industries such as auto making, airline transportation and toy manufacturing have taken great strides to maximize safety for workers and consumers. Healthcare, on the other hand, lags in establishing systems for preventing errors and ensuring greater safety. This situation is due, in part, to the slow pace of the industry to adopt technology, to disseminate information, and to track outcomes.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has cited poor information management as a major contributor to the unacceptably high level of medical errors in the United States; and identified technology as a key to increasing patient safety. A report released in March 2003 asserted “ . . . information must play a central role in the redesign of the healthcare system if a substantial improvement in quality is to be achieved over the coming decade.”

Technology impacts patient safety in a number of ways. It provides doctors with the most up-to-date research available to ensure that patients are receiving the best treatment possible; enables computerized order entries, which reduce the risk of medical errors and adverse drug events (ADEs); and allows for the use of electronic medical records for consistent and easy access to patient data.

* Evidence Demands a Verdict

In a court of law, evidence determines the outcome of a trial. Similarly, evidence-based healthcare has a dramatic impact on a course of treatment. Today, advances in medicine occur at such a dramatic rate that doctors simply don’t have enough hours in the day to conduct extensive research on each condition they see. To ensure the best treatment, however, doctors must capture the most current knowledge available to apply to their patients, care that’s dependent on extensive literature searching and up-to-date reviews. This practice also requires the application of formal rules of evidence through the use of technology in evaluating clinical literature to ensure that the information is applicable to the current situation.

“Countless published reports have cited information technology as an essential element for curing an epidemic of medical error and establishing proactive safety standards across healthcare systems,” says Jeff Rose, M.D., and chief medical officer for Cerner Corp., a developer of healthcare information technology solutions designed to have a dramatic impact on process, training and patient care improvements. “Knowledge-driven care provides immediate context for efficient decision-making and eliminates data isolation that invites opportunity for error.”

At Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, the team is transforming data into knowledge to support clinicians at the point of care using a system from Cerner. The organization’s emphasis on knowledge-driven care involves implementing rules and alerts that react to patient-specific data captured in an electronic record.

“Rules and alerts help me make the most of every office visit,” says Dr. Jeffrey Smith, medical director of the Johnston Primary Care Clinic in Milwaukee. “Particularly in this day and age of shorter and shorter visits combined with increased expectations for physicians’ responsibilities, I appreciate prompts and guides to make sure I don’t miss anything.”

Healthcare providers at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La., also recognize the importance of technology to improve patient safety. They have implemented a number of applications from Cerner to review vital patient information, reduce medical errors and, ultimately save lives. Specifically, computerized physician order entry (CPOE) improves patient safety by eliminating the practice of handwriting prescriptions. Handwritten orders are oftentimes illegible and subject to misinterpretation. CPOE greatly reduces the risk of error.

“Doctor order entry has the potential to be the biggest improvement of patient safety,” says Ron Radzikowski, M.D., who specializes in internal medicine at Our Lady of the Lake. “It eliminates handwriting problems. It will send the order directly to the person who will fill the order. It takes out all the intermediaries in between.”

* Electronic Medical Records Reduce Errors, Increase Quality of Care

At a time when demands on the healthcare system are increasing exponentially, healthcare providers must have efficient and uniform access to their patients’ health information; however, paper charts are cumbersome and difficult to maintain. The National Committee for Quality Assurance estimates that more than 20 percent of medical visits occur without the patient’s chart being available because it can’t be found. This situation is both embarrassing and potentially dangerous because, in the absence of this data, health professionals must act without any background information on the patient. Electronic medical records (EMRs) are a solution to this problem because they provide consistent and immediate access to patient health history, thereby reducing the potential for error and increasing the quality and safety of care.

“I feel safe practicing medicine, particularly in this litigious society in which we live. The electronic medical record and its complete, timely documentation supports the delivery of quality care,” says Dr. Anthony Alfieri, president Delaware Cardiovascular Associates.

Consumers can rest assured that the nation’s hospitals are committed to improving patient safety and continuously strive to do so. To be successful, patient safety ultimately requires involvement of everyone, from physicians and hospitals to device manufacturers and consumers. Technology facilitates that interaction and can dramatically impact healthcare outcomes.

For more information, contact Tasha Hammes, Cerner Corporation’s public relations specialist at thammes@cerner.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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