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Baby’s Death Spotlights Safety Risks Linked To Computerized Systems

Published: Jun 30, 2011 in Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury

Computerized systems are increasingly being utilized in the medical field, but there are some risks involved, Alabama medical malpractice attorney Keith T. Belt says.

As hospitals rely more on electronic data, worries over potential errors grow. The hospital error that killed Genesis Burkett began with the kind of mistake people often make when filling out electronic forms. A pharmacy technician unwittingly typed the wrong information into a field on a screen. Because of the mix-up, an automated machine at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, in Park Ridge, IL, prepared an intravenous solution containing a massive overdose of sodium chloride — more than 60 times the amount ordered by a physician.

When the nutritional fluids were administered to Genesis, a tiny baby born 16 weeks prematurely, the infant’s heart stopped, and he died, leaving behind parents stunned by grief. Although a series of other errors contributed to the tragedy, its origin — a piece of data entered inaccurately into a computer program — throws a spotlight on safety risks associated with medicine’s advance into the information age, a trend being pushed aggressively under health reform.

Doctors should be able to see test results quickly and communicate more easily with each other, for example. And electronic safeguards can remind physicians about recommended medical practices or alert them to harmful interactions between medicines. Yet with these sizable potential benefits also come potential problems. Hospital computers may crash or software bugs jumble data, deleting information from computerized records or depositing it in the wrong place. Sometimes, computers spew forth a slew of disorganized data, and physicians can’t quickly find critical information about patients.

Meanwhile, different electronic systems used in hospitals may not be able to communicate, and the alerts built into these systems are often ignored because they are so frequent and often are not especially useful, physicians and other experts report.

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.

Talk to the Alabama Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Belt & Bruner, P.C. Today

If you or a loved one suffered harm because of a preventable hospital error, you may be able to hold the nurse, doctor, or organization at fault responsible for your injuries. You can bring a medical malpractice claim against the individuals and organization you believe wronged you. Call our offices today at (205) 933-1500 to speak with an Alabama personal injury attorney.