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Timing Problems Lead to Medical Errors by Doctors

The Economist published a fascinating story last week on timing problems at hospitals that may lead to life threatening medical errors. Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm understands the complexity of modern day medical care. Even seemingly simple mistakes can have far-reaching consequences. That is why it is imperative that all potential systematic problems be rooted out to ensure patient safety is not compromised.

The Problem
The story explains how one anaesthetist became concerned when he noticed that a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR) was 8 minutes off in its assessment of checks on the administration of blood clotting medication. The device had been set incorrectly. Nothing happened in that case, because the doctor caught the error and was able to account for it. However, he was alarmed. If another doctor happened to enter the room to help the patient, the second doctor would likely have trusted the incorrect timing and perhaps changed dosage-a life-threatening blood clot could have resulted.

The doctor did not let the problem go without investigation. He eventually secured grants to conduct an extensive examination of timing devices on all sorts of medical equipment-from heart-lung machines and medical monitors to ventilators and infusion pumps. The results of the research are alarming.

Each Illinois medical malpractice attorney at our firm was shocked to learn that only 3% of the tested devices were accurate within three seconds. Amazingly, nearly 20% of the devices were off by half an hour. On average, the timing devices on these machines were 24 minutes off.

The Consequences
Local residents are likely wondering what this means for patient care. The sad truth is that many Illinois medical errors may have been caused by these sorts of timing problems. The article explains how therapies may go on for too long or be too brief as a result of clock issues. Similarly, improper drug dosages might be administered because of the problem. An earlier study found that mistimed medication were the number one type of intravenous drug mistake-considering the timing problems uncovered in this latest study, it is no wonder why.

Electronic medical records react to timing problems in different ways. Some systems automatically reject “suspicious” data while others keep the information. In fact, sometimes the EMR inserts the data for one patient after the patient has already left and a new patient has taken their place. In this way, doctors may be making medical decisions based on information about a totally different patient. It should go without saying that these sorts of medical errors are entirely unacceptable. They must be rooted out.

Observers say an easy solution exists-have medical devices switch to the “Network Time Protocol” (NTP). This is the same system that keeps computers and cell phones in perfect sync. However, federal regulators have never required medical devices to be able to tap into the NTP. As a result, the device manufacturers have not included this ability. Many companies would rather not rewrite software and re-test devices to make the switch because of the cost concerns. Fortunately, regulatory changes might be in store for the future, as the U.S. Department of Health has proposed new rules that would require updates to these devices.

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