Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Identifying patient safety problems associated with information technology in general practice: an analysis of incident reports
  1. Farah Magrabi1,
  2. Siaw Teng Liaw2,
  3. Diana Arachi3,
  4. William Runciman4,
  5. Enrico Coiera1,
  6. Michael R Kidd5
  1. 1Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4The School of Psychology, Social Work & Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  5. 5Faculty of Health Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Farah Magrabi, Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia; farah.magrabi{at}


Objective To identify the categories of problems with information technology (IT), which affect patient safety in general practice.

Design General practitioners (GPs) reported incidents online or by telephone between May 2012 and November 2013. Incidents were reviewed against an existing classification for problems associated with IT and the clinical process impacted.

Participants and setting 87 GPs across Australia.

Main outcome measure Types of problems, consequences and clinical processes.

Results GPs reported 90 incidents involving IT which had an observable impact on the delivery of care, including actual patient harm as well as near miss events. Practice systems and medications were the most affected clinical processes. Problems with IT disrupted clinical workflow, wasted time and caused frustration. Issues with user interfaces, routine updates to software packages and drug databases, and the migration of records from one package to another generated clinical errors that were unique to IT; some could affect many patients at once. Human factors issues gave rise to some errors that have always existed with paper records but are more likely to occur and cause harm with IT. Such errors were linked to slips in concentration, multitasking, distractions and interruptions. Problems with patient identification and hybrid records generated errors that were in principle no different to paper records.

Conclusions Problems associated with IT include perennial risks with paper records, but additional disruptions in workflow and hazards for patients unique to IT, occasionally affecting multiple patients. Surveillance for such hazards may have general utility, but particularly in the context of migrating historical records to new systems and software updates to existing systems.

  • Information technology
  • Patient safety
  • General practice

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors FM, MRK, STL and EC conceptualised the study; FM led the data analysis, drafted the paper and is responsible for the integrity of the work. She is the guarantor. DA helped with data analysis. All authors participated in writing and revising the paper. All aspects of the study (including design; collection, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the report; and decision to publish) were led by the authors.

  • Funding This research is supported in part by grants from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC): Project Grant 630583; and Centre for Research Excellence in e-Health 1032664.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Macquarie University, University of New South Wales, Flinders University and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners human research ethics committees.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.