Digital Health Records Create New Problems

digital_health_records_problemsThe growing business of electronic health records is not without very serious, life-altering risks.

Take the case of an 84-year-old woman who was rushed to the hospital for an apparent stroke. Her physician reviewed her electronic health records following admission and saw that she was correctly being treated with a medication for rapid heartbeat. A few days later, when the woman began experience heart issues, the medication was no longer listed on her electronic medical record. She suffered blot clots and hemorrhages, underwent emergency brain surgery, and died in 2011. Her son is blaming his mother’s death on the hospital’s faulty electronic records, according Bloomberg News.

The technology is meant to help provide easily accessible and comprehensive patient medical information that should surpass traditional paper files. Electronic medical records, explained Bloomberg News, are meant to provide access to full patient history such as lab results, prescriptions, medical history, and other critical information. While the new technology has cut down on some human errors—illegible prescriptions leading to incorrect medications, for example—the technology has led to different, sometimes significant errors.

A study conducted in 2011 revealed issues with electronic medical record technology: Wrong, dangerous drug doses given due to confusion with the drop-down menu technology; patients undergoing unnecessary surgery when electronic records displayed wrong information; and network delays in sending medical images, which have led to serious injuries and deaths. The study was based on reports received by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to Bloomberg News.

A study published late last year by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, revealed that medical error reports associated with electronic records are rising. According to Bloomberg News, of 3,099 incidents reported in eight years, 1,142 were filed in 2011, which is more than twice that in 2010. In 2012, about 69 percent of United States doctors said they used electronic records, according to Health Affairs. As the government offers bonuses for initial users and will begin implementing penalties in 2015 for those who do not upgrade, numbers are expected to continue to rise.

“If we’re this far into this implementation across the country, and we still have this level of discordance, shame on us,” Dr. Frank Byrne, president of Wisconsin’s St. Mary’s Hospital, said at a recent Digital Healthcare Conference, according to Information Week. “How did we get here and how do we get out? Because we’ve created barriers.” Some key issues involve how to share patient information across various vendor systems; patients’ control of their data sharing; clinician training, especially in critical, high-stress environments and situations; mobile applications; medical specialty systems’ creation and compatibility; and the lack of one central repository for at least some data, according to Information Week.

Marin General Hospital nurses complained about an electronic medical-record system developed by McKesson. The nurses said the system was causing medications to be ordered for the wrong patients, according to Bloomberg News. A group of nurses in San Francisco faulted Epic Systems for system issues that caused drugs to disappear from electronic files, which endangered patients. In just one month, 129 complaints were filed by county detention facility nurses, said Jerry Fllingim, labor representative at National Nurses United, wrote Bloomberg News.

U.S. medical-device makers must report every malfunction, serious injury, and death involving their products to the FDA. The software firms that manufacture electronic medical records are not required to report malfunctions and any injuries or fatalities associated with their technology.

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