EMR Involved In Virus Exposure At Hospital

Posted on August 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Over the past several months, nurses have been campaigning to get more training on the EMRs rolling out where they work.  Without such training, and involvement in the rollout, they’re put at a disadvantage that could lead to patient harm, nurse leaders say.

For example, in June nurses at Massillon, OH-based Affinity Medical Center wrote a letter to the facility’s chief nursing officer questioning the safety of the center’s new Cerner EMR. The hospital’s 250-odd direct care nurses, and the national nursing union National Nurses Organizing Committee, noted that execs had neither increased nurse staffing nor decreased the number of elective procedures scheduled to be performed as the rollout proceeded.

Now, an incident has taken place which should lend more credence to nurses’ claims that they’re not woven into the process of using EMRs enough. Dialysis patients at Boston Medical Center were exposed to hepatitis B earlier this year when nurses with an outside contractor didn’t get adequate access to the hospital’s EMR system, reports EHR Intelligence.

The medical center contracts with an outside company called DaVita to run its dialysis unit. According to EHR Intelligence, two DaVita nurses exposed patients to hepatitis B by using equipment used by an infected patient.

This might be written off as an unfortunate but routine accident, but in this case, the error was preventable. The nurses never got training on how to use the hospital’s EMR system, and were given read-only access to critical records to support patient care.

If the nurses had had adequate access to the EMR, or had been through an EMR orientation, they would have known that an infected patient had used the dialysis equipment, EHR Intelligence notes. Instead, the nurses failed to sterilize the infected equipment, which then exposed thirteen patients to the illness. Five patients had to be specially treated and isolated to prevent further spread of the disease, the site said.

I wish this incident was a fluke, but the truth is, it almost certainly isn’t. Evidence is beginning to pile up that nurses aren’t getting a firm enough grounding in how their hospital’s EMR works before they’re sent off to use it. It’s time for hospital CIOs to take this issue seriously, before their patients end  up dead or injured due to preventable EMR workflow issues.