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Ebola Infection Prompts Changes in EHR Systems

Nurse becomes first to contract deadly virus in United States after treating infected Liberia man.

By Bisk on October 13, 2014
Ebola Infection Prompts Changes in EHR Systems

Electronic health record vendors and health information workers are mobilizing in response to mounting Ebola concerns in the United States after a Texas nurse tested positive for Ebola after treating a Liberian man who later died from the illness.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., was mistakenly released from Texas Presbyterian Hospital the first time he sought treatment, and the hospital initially blamed its EHR system, according to reports. The hospital later retracted that statement; however, vendors are ramping up their efforts to help better identify potential Ebola patients, according to Modern Healthcare.

Duncan told a Texas Presbyterian intake nurse on Sept. 25 he recently traveled to Africa, but that information was not communicated to all members of the healthcare team, including physicians, according to reports. Duncan was given antibiotics and released. He returned in deteriorating condition three days later and hospitalized.

Ensuring all healthcare workers have access to communicable diseases data, including travel history, is critical in identifying potential Ebola patients, and vendors and healthcare CIOs are working to address the issue, according the Modern Healthcare report.

Epic Systems Corp reported that travel history is already standard in its EHR system, but the company hosted a client conference call and recommended all that all organizations review triage and communication processes.

Athenahealth updated its EHR system with recommended CDC questions to screen for Ebola risk, including residence history, travel history, contact with animals from high-risk geographic areas, and contact with people known or suspected to have the virus, according the Modern Healthcare report.

Healthcare information officers typically tweak EHR documentation processes in response to CDC alerts, Russ Branzell, CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executive, told Modern Healthcare.

“The real key is to make sure everyone's doing them the same way, and that people are entering data appropriately in the record,” he said. 

The American nurse now infected with Ebola has not been identified by the CDC, but officials say the patient is in isolation and potential protocol breaches are under investigation.

Everyone who treated Duncan may have been exposed and more Ebola cases are a possibility, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden told reporters.

 “Even a single, inadvertent innocent slip can result in contamination,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Category: Healthcare