By now many of you have heard about Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States. Duncan initially went undiagnosed by doctors and was released from a Dallas hospital late last month. As this Atlantic news article points out, he was sent home not because of negligence by the doctors, but because of a technological error.
Duncan was admitted to a Dallas hospital on Sept. 24, after suffering from a fever and abdominal pain. Duncan told the nursing staff that he recently traveled to West Africa — which should have been a major red flag. Ebola has been in the news a lot lately, as the virus has killed more than 3,400 people this year in Africa. It’s an incurable and potentially lethal virus that is highly contagious and requires infected patients to be quarantined.
Duncan’s recent travel history was entered into the electronic health record (EHR), and was supposed to go into both the nursing staff and physician’s separate workflows. The problem was that Duncan’s trip to West Africa only showed up in the nursing staff’s workflow. So the physicians never saw this crucial piece of information and had no reason to suspect Duncan had Ebola. Eventually, Duncan returned to the hospital Sept. 28 and was officially diagnosed with Ebola.
The use of EHRs have long been a point of contention for many hospitals. Some doctors prefer to not use EHRs and stick to charts because they feel that they lose valuable face time with patients. Another interesting thing to note about the EHR used by the Dallas hospital is that Ebola isn’t even considered its own disease under the current classification system. It shares a code with multiple viral diseases. This obviously, along with the workflow system, are being updated so that a similar issue doesn’t occur again.
Unfortunately, these changes are being made too late to help Duncan. He died due to complications from Ebola on Oct. 8.
Was this recording error a one-time mistake? Do EHR systems need to be re-evaluated?