A month ago, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston had no way to flag in its electronic medical records if an incoming patient had been to West Africa and had symptoms suggesting Ebola.
Now it does. Five days after the first U.S. case was confirmed in Texas, the hospital deployed a new Ebola application made by QPID Health Inc. that automatically matches a patient’s travel and family history with medical symptoms. If Ebola is suspected, the application flashes a blinking “Q” to alert hospital personnel.
Medical experts say concern over Ebola cases entering the U.S. has become a “teachable moment” for electronic medical records systems, or EMRs.
EMR vendors have scrambled to add new screening questions and alerts to their systems in the wake of the missteps with the Ebola patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital. That patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, who had recently come to the U.S. from Liberia, was initially misdiagnosed as having “sinusitis” and sent home, only to return three days later, gravely ill.
“This was a caregiver communication issue, not an EMR issue,” said Wendell Watson, a spokesman for the hospital, which initially said that a flaw in its EMR system prevented the physician from seeing Mr. Duncan’s travel information, then said it had been noted in his records.
Mr. Duncan subsequently died of Ebola at the hospital on Oct. 8.
“Before we had a case of Ebola, no one had programmed these systems to say, ‘Here’s a patient with a fever who has just come from West Africa: He needs to be isolated,’” said Robert Wachter, a patient-safety expert and chief of hospital medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Now, they all are.”