Reducing Medical Error by Implementing Electronic Health Records

In a recent post, our Maryland Medical Error Attorneys discussed how computerized health records have been used by the Veterans Health Administration for the past decade, with great reported success. These electronic records have reportedly improved the health care and well being of nearly eight million veterans, by storing information electronically about the prescriptions, studies, laboratory tests, consultations, doctor’s notes and any reports about the patient in any Veterans Affairs hospital—reducing the potential for medical errors or personal injury.

Yesterday The New York Times published an article discussing the reported benefits of electronic records, and how President Obama’s economic stimulus that included $19.2 billion for health information technology, has given many hospitals incentive to invest in creating and using electronic records to improve the efficiency, quality, and safety of medical care. The goal according to the article is to integrate the various systems across the country with various hospitals and medical groups so medical records can be shared on a common platform within the different systems.

According to the article, the benefits of electronic health records are:

• If the doctor has immediate access to a patient’s record, it could reduce medical errors and personal injury within the hospital setting due to drug complications, pharmacy errors, drug allergies, or potential drug interactions, as well as drug recalls.

• Electronic records can eliminate duplicate tests, from M.R.I.’s to blood tests. If a patient is seeing multiple doctors, a new doctor can easily access their test results electronically within the same system, which can prove to be valuable in a life-threatening situation. If a test needs to be repeated, the doctor will have access to the results of the last test to compare.

• Surgery can reportedly be made safer with access to electronic records. When a doctor has just finished multiple operations, there is a long list of health care steps that need to be performed with each patient, that include lab tests, blood clot checks, and nursing care instructions. When relying on a doctor’s memory alone, important steps can be easily forgotten. With electronic reminders, each step must be done, and patient care is improved.

• When a patient reportedly has electronic access to critical parts of their health records, like test results, they are able and often interested in improving their own health care, and can bring certain specific symptoms and health concerns to the attention to their doctors.

• By creating an electronic system, patients with chronic illnesses can be alerted with reminders and prompts when it is time for another office visit, or to regularly take prescribed medications. Electronic reminders also help patients receive better preventative care, like getting a flu shot, lab tests, or a colonoscopy. Electronic records can also help patients, doctors and pharmacists have a clear understanding of prescriptions and drug interactions, to avoid pharmacy error or misfill.

• When prescribing the right drug for a patient, electronic records can help the prescriber identify the right drug and dosage regimen. In the future, when variations in drug responses are identified according to DNA-based variations, doctors will be able to choose the best and most effective medication and dosage according to each patient’s unique genome.

The main concerns about electronic medical records revolve around privacy. The New York Times reports that the medical information will be password-protected, and that employers and insurers would only have access to a patient’s medical record if the patient gives authorization.

Medical Paper Trail Takes Electronic Turn, The New York Times, February 22, 2010

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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