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The rollout of Cerner’s electronic health record in Veterans Affairs hospitals has been a high-profile struggle: outages, training troubles, and now, an alarming report showing it directly harmed scores of patients.

And while the system’s stumbles are noteworthy, they’re far from rare. Health informatics and patient safety experts acknowledge that electronic health records regularly break, in ways big and small — and largely, those problems and the harms they cause go unrecorded.


“When the Boeing 737 MAX crashed, it made the news because 300 people died all at once,” said Dean Sittig, a biomedical informatician at the UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Informatics who has been involved in EHR deployments for multiple health systems. “With the EHR, it’s spread out all over the country. It’s very difficult to separate the people that were going to die from the people that died because of an error.”

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