'Flaw' in Electronic Health Record Blamed for Medical Error Involving Ebola Patient

By Susan Jones | October 3, 2014 | 8:06 AM EDT

Electronic health records (EHRs) are a source of frustration to many physicians, says a study conducted by the RAND corporation and commissioned by the American Medical Association. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - When a sick Liberian man walked into Texas Presbyterian Hospital last month, "Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurses," the hospital said in a statement released Thursday night.

The man told a nurse he had come from West Africa, where an Ebola epidemic is raging.

"However, we have identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records (EHR) interacted in this specific case."

The hospital said its electronic health records include "separate physician and nursing workflows."

The hospital said the Liberian man's travel history was located in the nurses' portion of the EHR, but -- "As designed, the travel history would not automatically appear in the physician’s standard workflow."

"As result of this discovery, Texas Health Dallas has relocated the travel history documentation to a portion of the EHR that is part of both workflows. It also has been modified to specifically reference Ebola-endemic regions in Africa.

"We have made this change to increase the visibility and documentation of the travel question in order to alert all providers. We feel that this change will improve the early identification of patients who may be at risk for communicable diseases, including Ebola," the hospital said.

A provision in President Obama's 2009 stimulus law required physicians and hospitals to adopt Electronic health records "for each person in the United States by 2014."

While some Americans have raised privacy concerns, physicians themselves have raised concerns about EHRs degrading the quality of medical care.

As CNSNews.com reported one year ago, a RAND Corporation study conducted for the American Medical Association found that EHRs were a source of frustration for many doctors.

Those surveyed said that current EHR technology interferes with face-to-face discussions with patients; requires physicians to spend too much time performing clerical work; and degrades the accuracy of medical records by encouraging template-generated doctors' notes.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted that EHRs would lead to "more coordination of patient care, reduced medical errors, elimination of duplicate screenings and tests, and greater patient engagement in their own care."

But in the case of the Liberian Ebola patient, a major medical error -- the decision to send the sick man home instead of into isolation -- is blamed directly on an EHR.