Electronic medical records are supposed to make healthcare more personalized, more convenient and more effective, but recent events show they may pose some very serious risks to patients, sometimes resulting in inaccurate diagnoses that could lead to poor outcomes and even death. Some errors have been so serious that they’ve led to malpractice suits that have settled for millions of dollars.
Errors occur for different reasons: First, matching records to the right patient can be problematic, even with a name and birthdate, since databases can be enormous. Many records are incomplete, including records only from certain providers, but leaving important gaps in care provided by healthcare providers that haven’t “gone digital.”
One of the most critical opportunities for error is in data entry. When systems are poorly designed or healthcare personnel are inadequately trained, serious errors can occur that can have a direct impact on the care you receive.
Incomplete records aren’t the only concern: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports more than 1,000 health record data breaches have occurred since 2009, potentially exposing millions of consumers’ data to identity thieves.
Why are hackers so interested in medical records? Simple: Most records contain names, addresses, birthdates, social security numbers and more – a rich treasure trove of information that can be sold for top dollar. And research indicates that medical facilities and the healthcare industry at large are far behind when it comes to using robust security measures to protect your sensitive information.
Despite these inherent risks, electronic medical records aren’t going to go away; in fact, their use likely will become much more widespread and pervasive. In our next blog, learn what you can do to protect yourself.
Few political issues have been distorted more than the concept of “medical malpractice reform.”
If you ask the average citizen what the consequences would be of raising medical malpractice damage caps, he or she would probably tell you the following:
Raising caps would threaten doctors and force them to practice “defensive medicine.”
It would also lead to spikes in insurance rates and put money into the pockets of lawyers at the expense of the citizenry.
But many respected studies and independent journalistic reports have shown, time and time again, that these fears are totally unfounded. They’re myths. But the insurance industry benefits from promulgating these ideas about medical malpractice reform.
Some voters, safety advocates and politicians (including California’s popular Senator, Barbara Boxer) believe that enough is enough. Golden State voters recently had a chance to vote on Proposition 46, a proposal that would have lifted a cap on medical malpractice damages. For almost four decades, that cap has stagnated at $250,000 without increasing or keeping apace with inflation. Voters ultimately defeated Proposition 46 on the ballot, thanks in part to a multi-million dollar “No on 46” campaign financed by insurance industry interests.
The measure would have also mandated drug and alcohol testing for doctors and forced physicians to refer to a statewide database before prescribing painkillers to their patients.
Bob Pack, who lost his two children (ages 7 and 10) after a nanny high on prescription medications ran them over in 2003, put the situation plainly: “insurance industry profits trumped patient safety.”
But the battle over Proposition 46 at least suggests that the timbre of the national debate has changed. Insurance companies are now on the defensive, and the myths about medical malpractice reform are slowly but surely fading in the light of objective media inquiry.
The proliferation of electronic medical records has, in many ways, benefited the health care industry. In theory, these sophisticated systems provide a centralized location for medical professionals to access and update patient information, instantaneously making data available to all of the patient’s providers. These systems can lower costs and reduce opportunities for error.
But are these systems safe?
Truth be told, the advent of new records systems has challenged many health care facilities and led to devastating complications, such as:
- Decreased efficiency. As professionals attempt to learn complex new medical records programs, they can lose valuable time with their patients. Red tape can slow down critical patient care processes.
- Medication errors. Typos and other similar discrepancies can cause deadly mistakes in the types and amounts of medications dispensed to patients.
- Incompatibilities. Facilities that use different types of electronic medical records can have compatibility issues when sending patient information back and forth with partner hospitals and doctors officers.
- Fraudulent billing. Computers generate an increasing number of medical bills; providers can more easily add confusing line items on purpose that increase insurance payments.
- Downtime. When electronic records systems crash, health care facilities must scramble to use alternate databases – or paper records – until they come back online. The time spent reconciling these two methods can be considerable.
Clearly, electronic medical records systems can benefit patients, doctors and hospitals. But we cannot ignore the possible adverse effects of these systems. Health care facilities and providers must work together to improve their functionality, reliability, and compatibility to keep patients safe.