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Congresswoman Asks For More Information About IT Related Medical Errors

We have frequently mentioned the personal and financial toll that medical malpractice has nationwide. Up to 100,000 lives are lost each year because of medical mistakes that could have been prevented. In addition, tens of billions of dollars in extra healthcare costs are required to treat the complications which would never have developed had medical care been reasonably provided. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers have long explained how these statistics must not be forgotten when lawmakers are considering policy changes in the healthcare field.

Few national issues stir more debate and involve more activity than those seeking to improve healthcare while controlling the often staggering costs associated with proper treatment. One of the new areas which to receive much attention is that of expanding use of new information technology in the healthcare field. Specifically, many are hoping that increased use of IT procedures in areas like medication prescriptions can help limit mistakes, save lives, and save money. However, new studies have recently indicated that the effectiveness of IT changes on limiting medical errors may not be strong.

Last week one member of Congress specifically requested more information from the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, about the effect of IT changes on medical error rates. The Congresswoman highlighted a news story that discussed how a young child was killed when computerized IV equipment mistakenly gave the infant a fatal dose of chloride solution. The error was caused by a technician mistakenly entering the wrong dosage into the computer system. The machine failed to catch the error. Similarly, in another case a physician failed to catch an electronic records alert when they mistakenly gave an individual a hepatitis C-positive kidney in a transplant.

The Congresswoman’s letter cited a new study which we have discussed here previously from the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research found that a startling 12 percent of all computer-generated prescriptions contained errors. Those error rates were similar to those found with hand written prescriptions. The data indicates that much work still needs to be done to ensure patient safety regarding these medication errors, regardless of whether electronic tools are used or not.

Obviously integrating more technology advances into the healthcare system will be an important way to improve the efficiency and safety of medical treatment. However, while that transition is underway it is important that patients are not unknowingly injured in the process. It is also important not to overestimate the amount of improvement that will come with these changes. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers know that mistakes continue to strike in a variety of settings, with or without IT improvements. Some of those errors will result from doctors, nurses, and assistants who mistakenly use the technology while others may stem from the new computerized equipment malfunctioning itself. In all cases, it is vital that these potential problems been assessed fully and honestly with a focus on keeping patients safe at all times. All patients who believe that they may have fallen victim to one of these IT-related medical errors should visit legal professionals to understand their rights in the situation.

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