Will EMRs Pass the Crash Test?

Case Western Reserve University health information technology researcher Andy Podgurski cautions that EMR systems—like other complex software systems-are vulnerable to crashes. Shutdowns, he says, can be catastrophic in a hospital or emergency situation.

"By the time a failure happens, the whole organization has become dependent on the EMR system, so it's not so easy to go back to paper records on the fly," says Podgurski, who has published extensive studies on EMRs with his wife and fellow researcher, Sharona Hoffman, JD.

Joe Peter, director of Case Western Reserve's Regional Extension Center, counsels physicians as they select and roll out EMR systems. He says that crashes wouldn't lead to such crises because information storage and backup are integral parts of implementing EMRs.

"Hospitals, especially larger hospitals, have IT teams and contingency plans to deal with shutdowns and system failures," he says. "Also, hospitals do yearly disaster training where they plan for things like power outages, and their simulation plan might well include provisions for lost data."

And while EMRs might represent a major change in health IT, he reminds naysayers that other industries successfully went digital years ago.

"This is one of the last bastions," Peter says. "When was the last time someone printed out a receipt for you on a manual cash register?"

Has your doctor made a digital switch? What do you think about it? Tell us in the Comments section