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Bad data can lead to bad medical care and injury

The age of the computer isn’t particularly long, but it’s been underway long enough that there are more than a few axioms now ingrained in nearly everyone’s thinking. One of them is the notion of garbage in, garbage out.

What it means is that the quality of a computer’s output depends on the quality of the data it receives. If the information going in is bad you can expect something bad on the other end. This is perhaps more troubling for the healthcare industry than almost any other.

Consider how many machines are used in the course of a patient’s daily care in the hospital or clinic. And now consider that nearly all of them depend on computer chips and information. Under the GIGO scenario it could mean medical errors resulting in serious injury or even death.

This is something on the radar of many quality of care experts in Texas and the rest of the country. As an example, take the results of a national Harris Poll of 526 nurses conducted earlier this year. What it looked at was how often mobile devices are used in the delivery of care and the effect on care when the devices lack interoperability. The findings weren’t heartening.

What respondents said was that while they have a lot more technology to work with, the devices aren’t set to sync patient information, even when they could be. In other words, the kind of automatic sharing of data that is so common among personal devices like smartphones, computers and tablets, isn’t happening in the healthcare setting.

Nurses said they spend so much time working manually to make sure that patient information is consistent across devices that they fear care is suffering. Half of them said they had seen medical errors occur because of this problem.

Not every error that results in injury or death can be ascribed to negligence, but mistakes in the sharing of patient information are among things that many experts say should never happen. If negligence can be shown, those responsible should expect to be held accountable.