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Why your electronic health care records aren’t making you safer

The odds are very high that you haven’t seen a physician with a paper chart in a very long time.

Back in 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) pressured physicians and hospitals to adopt electronic health records. The idea was partially to move patient care into the digital age.

Unfortunately, it may have actually set things back. The rush of new systems being developed and presented for use hasn’t been carefully handled or well-regulated, and that’s led to a mishmash of electronic programs that may be confusing to use and overwhelming for doctors and nurses to handle.

Patient care is sometimes suffering as a result. Many patients feel like they spend more time dealing with the electronic records at each doctor’s visit than they do actually talking to their doctor. Physicians say that the systems they’re forced to work with are “clumsy” and counterintuitive. Transferring data from one facility or physician’s office to the next is a nightmare (something electronic health records was supposed to make easier) because there are 700 different vendors producing systems that aren’t capable of interacting with each other.

Patient records still get mangled together, critical orders for tests never get transmitted, test results don’t make their intended recipient — and patients are suffering irreparable harm or dying as a result. The systems can be so confusing to use that important data gets lost in all those electronic pages. Sometimes, doctors and nurses are simply so preoccupied with filling out the pages in an electronic health record they fail to notice something with the patient that should be obvious. Some experts say that it’s hard to tell when an accident happens where human error is involved and where technology is at fault.

The reality is this: Electronic health records have not made medical care safer. If anything, they may be increasing the number of mistakes that happen in hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. If you suspect that an error in your health records led to an incident of medical malpractice, you may be absolutely correct — so find out more about your legal options.


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