How consistent healthcare terminology can help reduce medical errors

In recent years, talks of EHR communication and medical practices have become quite common. The relation between these two might seem obvious, yet there are still some who oppose the idea of better connectivity and interoperability between EHRs and healthcare organizations. Medical error is a topic which brings uneasiness among healthcare practitioners mainly because in some cases it can be difficult to determine the cause of the error, and additionally because taking responsibility for a medical error might seem like an equation of failure[1]. Consistent healthcare terminology can help reduce medical errors and is a step towards tackling the problem at hand.

According to the findings of Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his co-author Michael Daniel, deaths caused by medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the US after heart disease and cancer [2]. Additionally, in their research, which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2016, Makary and Daniel claim that clinical data should have the possibility to be shared the same way as researchers share new findings[3]. Consistent, standardized clinical terminology may be key to helping medical practitioners access and understand clinical data found in healthcare applications, and thus reducing the likelihood of error.

But what exactly is a medical error and why is it so challenging to talk about it openly? Medical error is defined as a preventable adverse effect of care. There are two major types of medical errors: the first one related to actions not taken, such as not strapping a patient to a wheelchair, and the second one associated with wrong actions taken, such as administering a medication to a patient with a known allergy towards it[4].

Combining IT and healthcare data exchange can result positively in the sense that a better display of EHR information will positively impact the statistics of medical errors. Automatic double-check of the prescriptions will also potentially reduce the number of errors being made. At the core of all medical data and how it’s used, is the strength (or weakness) for the consistency and accuracy of the clinical data and descriptions. Proper terms, descriptions, versions and even mapping from one code set to another can help providers quickly and accurately assess existing EMR data from one or more sources, and to make quick and medically appropriate decisions. This accurate clinical data may also be able to link diagnosis, medications and alert for common medical errors. Healthcare organizations need to improve their systems, and usage of computer technology can help them achieve this.

Acknowledging one’s mistakes can be difficult and negative judgments may occur. The fear of punishment is another cause for the growing number of unreported medical errors.  Yet, errors happen and we (as a medical community) should be able to analyze the root cause and take steps minimize repeat errors. In some cases, however, analyzing a medical error might seem complicated as unknown factors – such as a development of a medication allergy – can present. In those cases, it might be harder to predict such complications. But it all starts with acknowledging that there is a problem and that it needs to be dealt with.

Our product, HealthTerm, is a terminology platform for the international healthcare sector which can help your healthcare system by providing the same consistent, accurate clinical data ‘language’ for your healthcare applications. We can help your health organization with various tasks related to terminology, structuring content, and code systems. This means that all your healthcare data will be displayed in a shared language and thus will be more comprehensible for medical practitioners.  Better communication and exchange within your healthcare data means that medical errors are less likely to occur.  And this is what we should prioritize – namely, patient safety.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499956/

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/03/researchers-medical-errors-now-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-united-states/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d78fca230c2e


[3] https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499956/

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