Technology Induced Errors a New RN Concern

May 29th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

I love my computer. I drag it and my iPhone almost everywhere, including to the NANDA-I Conference I attended last week. I take notes while listening to speakers, I use my phone or my digital camera to record the slides the experts use in their presentations, I post conference updates on Twitter and Facebook, and I bring it all together for this blog. I live an e-life it seems.

This is important because it has a direct bearing on healthcare, nursing, and as it would seem, nursing language (what NANDA-I uses to define “the knowledge of nursing”). My vocabulary enlarged last week as I learned a new word, some new phrases, and some new perils to look out for when I am working at the hospital.


We should all know that “iatrogenic” means “of or relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment.” One of the terms we see a lot these days is “HAI” or “hospital acquired infection.” This, along with other illnesses and injuries, which happen as a result of other medical care, are no longer being paid for by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) or by most insurance companies. And, there is new area of concern of which we must be aware: E-iatrogenic issues.

In the simplest way I can explain it, all the computers we’ve come to rely on in healthcare have their own perils and we are really starting to see evidence of that.

Elizabeth Borycki, RN, PhD, is an assistant professor of health information science the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. While attending NANDA-I she presented a paper on identifying and reducing “technology-induced errors” (one of those new phrases) or e-iatrogenic.

Technology-induced errors are errors that arise from the design and development of technology and the implementation and customization of that technology. In 1995 the U.S. Institute of Medicine endorsed the use of electronic health records (EHRs) as an intervention that could reduce errors. Healthcare organizations around the world ran with it and some follow-up studies reported the systems could replace the number of errors happening each year.

However, 10 years later, journal articles started publishing findings that described how EHRs and component software systems could, in themselves, lead to errors. Some of the types of errors Borycki highlighted included automatic defaults, incorrect medication dosages, and incorrect patient data. She cited some of the factors involved in these technology-induced mistakes:

  • Human factors including usability and workflow.
  • Organizational behavior such as socio-technical issues and system/organizational fit.
  • Software engineering including testing approaches.

While chatting with Borycki, after her presentation, we noted several ways these errors happen to all of us. For example, you put in some data but forget to hit return and “oops,” the patient’s last set of vital signs don’t actually get recorded. Or the drop down box you have to pick from auto-populates an answer if you don’t pick one, or something unusual happens and there is no free-text box to record the event—all of these are situations I’ve actually dealt with as hospital’s I’ve worked in become more automated. These are all potential patient safety issues.

And this brings us to why Borycki presented at NANDA-I. Borycki and her fellow researchers believe that we need to extend the NANDA-I taxonomy to include the emergence of these new patient safety issues. That is, technology-induced errors arising from the widespread implementation of health information systems. We need some new nursing diagnoses.

According to Borycki, examples of potential interventions include:

  • Reporting if computer system is not working or is malfunctioning.
  • Reporting if computer system causes hazards due to inefficiencies or negatively affects workflow.
  • Awareness of limitations of computer systems in nursing.
  • Questioning computer generated results that may not appear to match the right patient.
  • Recognizing problems in dangerous “work-arounds” due to technology.
  • Training on how to proceed in situations where a computer system goes down or is not available.

Nurses I have worked with come from many camps. Some like charting electronically, some miss paper charting (although there are error problems there too) and some want EMRs to work but don’t trust the systems. The reality is EMRs and electronic charting are here to stay. It is our job as nurses to get involved, to point out where entries could be more efficient or easier to use, to learn more about the systems we are given and use every day and to be proactive in finding the best possible means for using them. For that, we need a language because it all comes back to standardized communication techniques are the best ways to keep our patients safe—our primary concern as RNs. NANDA-I has a new challenge, defining the e-knowledge of nursing.

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