Software glitch behind faulty data in hundreds of patients' medical records

Doctor's office. Photo is illustrative.
Doctor's office. Photo is illustrative. Source: Karin Koppel

Over a period spanning nearly five years, erroneous information regarding the medical records of hundreds of patients ended up in the country's centralized medical record system thanks to a glitch in Perearst3, the electronic medical records (EMR) software used by the Estonia's family doctors. Software developer Medisoft confirms that the bug has been fixed.

Last Thursday, a family medical center reported to the Health and Welfare Information Systems Center (TEHIK) that one of their patients' medical records contained another person's data. TEHIK director Margus Arm told ERR that the patient themselves noticed the error.

It soon became clear that this issue wasn't an isolated one; the first such error occurred on February 12, 2019 already — or four and a half years ago.

"Based on the information we have at this time, there are 672 people involved in whose medical records this error has occurred," Arm revealed. "One person's medical records contain another person's diagnosis and treatment summary."

According to the center director, Medisoft explained that what happened was that when a family doctor had been dealing with two patients at once, and both patients' medical records were open, the doctor made changes to both.

"The error occurred in Medisoft's Perearst3 software, where the doctor may have seen the correct information, but when saving and submitting it to the central system, the document was assembled incorrectly," Arm said.

"If a doctor had looked at it themselves, then it was taken from the local system, and they may have seen [the data] correctly," he continued, "But what was submitted to the central system — the glitch occurred in submitting, assembling it, and the incorrect data was transmitted."

He added that hopefully the number of medical records affected by the glitch will go down in the course of further data analysis.

"We're currently closing all of the faulty medical records so that no third parties can make faulty decisions based on them, and old, flawed medical records should be fixed in the next few days," Arm said, noting that never have they seen such extensive issues in Estonia's healthcare information system before.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs' information, one family medical center had reported the software glitch to Medisoft in March already, but at the time, the software developer was unable to recreate the glitch, and didn't inform TEHIK of the problem either.

The Perearst3 EMR software is currently in use by 55 family medical centers across the country. How many wrong treatment decisions have been made as a result of the error still remains to be seen, Arm admitted.

"Incidents happen all the time in the IT world," the center director said. "What's crucial is finding out about them quickly, fixing them, and informing people quickly."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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