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Baby's Death Spotlights Safety Risks Linked to Computerized Hospital Systems

Baby's Death Spotlights Safety Risks Linked to Computerized Hospital Systems

Chicago Tribune

Exactly how often safety concerns arise is not known. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December acknowledged getting 370 reports of problems involving health information technology since January 2008, including several dozen patient injuries and deaths, but those numbers are likely to be low because such reports are voluntary. Some examples:

_A patient died after a computer network problem caused delays in transmitting a critically important diagnostic image.

_Vital signs from patient monitors disappeared from electronic medical records after being viewed by hospital staff.

_A patient died after getting therapy meant for someone else after a wrong name was entered electronically on a scan performed by radiologists.

_Data about patients’ allergies were eliminated from medical records during an automatic computer update.

“(These) technologies can be enormously helpful, but what is emerging is that when implemented poorly, they can be harmful,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and a member of an Institute of Medicine committee appointed late last year to study safety concerns associated with health information technology. That panel’s recommendations are expected to be issued in 2012.

Carla Smith, executive vice president of HIMSS, the industry’s largest trade group, based in Chicago, said that “safety concerns are on our radar screen” and “we want to make sure we have checks and balances in place (in vendor systems) to prevent unintended harm.”

The story of Genesis Burkett’s death at Advocate Lutheran General last October underscores the potentially devastating consequences of a single wrong piece of data put into a software system.

The infant’s parents, Fritzie and Cameron Burkett of Chicago, said they were overjoyed when their son, born four months early and weighing 1 pound 8 ounces, survived and began to improve under the hospital’s expert care. For about six weeks, the Burketts and other family members said, they were at the baby’s side, singing Christian music softly at his bassinet.

Having endured two previous miscarriages, the couple said they named the baby Genesis, signifying a new beginning.


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