Many health policy advocates contend that electronic health records (EHRs) might be the answer to patient safety problems, but findings from a recent study show this may not be the case. Even with EHRs, medical errors still occur, but tend to be “near misses” and “close calls.”

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority Report looked at 3,099 error reports from Pennsylvania hospitals in order to determine the severity of EHR-related mistakes. A total of 3,946 EHR-related problems were found from 2004 to 2012.

The majority – 89% (n=2,763) – were errors that caused no harm to patients. Another 10% (n=320) involved unsafe conditions, which did not result in harm to patients. A total of 15 reports involved temporary harm to patients due to wrong medication data, ignoring a documented allergy, failure to enter lab test results or other failure to document.

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Dual workflow – the process of using both paper-based and electronic records simultaneously – seems to be particularly problematic, the researchers noted. The configuration of certain electronic medical record systems, especially those that have preset default values, were also found to contribute to errors in medication orders and documentation.

Further studies are needed to determine best practices for using EHR default values, as well as to elucidate the cause of human-related problems, including wrong entry and failure to update information.  

, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.


  1. Sparnon E, Marella WM. “The Role of Electronic Health Records in Patient Safety Events.” PA Patient Saf Advis. 2012; 9(4):113-121.