Safe practices for copy and paste in the EHR: Systematic review, recommendations, and novel model for Health IT collaboration

Amy Y. Tsou, Christoph U. Lehmann, Jeremy Michel, Ronni Solomon, Lorraine Possanza, Tejal Gandhi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: Copy and paste functionality can support efficiency during clinical documentation, but may promote inaccurate documentation with risks for patient safety. The Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety was formed to gather data, conduct analysis, educate, and disseminate safe practices for safer care using health information technology (IT). Objective: To characterize copy and paste events in clinical care, identify safety risks, describe existing evidence, and develop implementable practice recommendations for safe reuse of information via copy and paste. Methods: The Partnership 1) reviewed 12 reported safety events, 2) solicited expert input, and 3) performed a systematic literature review (2010 to January 2015) to identify publications addressing frequency, perceptions/attitudes, patient safety risks, existing guidance, and potential interventions and mitigation practices. Results: The literature review identified 51 publications that were included. Overall, 66% to 90% of clinicians routinely use copy and paste. One study of diagnostic errors found that copy and paste led to 2.6% of errors in which a missed diagnosis required patients to seek additional unplanned care. Copy and paste can promote note bloat, internal inconsistencies, error propagation, and documentation in the wrong patient chart. Existing guidance identified specific responsibilities for authors, organizations, and electronic health record (EHR) developers. Analysis of 12 reported copy and paste safety events was congruent with problems identified from the literature review. Conclusion: Despite regular copy and paste use, evidence regarding direct risk to patient safety remains sparse, with significant study limitations. Drawing on existing evidence, the Partnership developed four safe practice recommendations: 1) Provide a mechanism to make copy and paste material easily identifiable; 2) Ensure the provenance of copy and paste material is readily available; 3) Ensure adequate staff training and education; 4) Ensure copy and paste practices are regularly monitored, measured, and assessed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-34
Number of pages23
JournalApplied Clinical Informatics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical documentation
  • Copy and paste
  • Electronic health records
  • Health policy
  • Information technology
  • Patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics
  • Health Information Management


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