The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 has garnered much attention for a variety of controversial matters, but a lesser publicized but nevertheless interesting provision within Obamacare is the one mandating and regulating the use of electronic medical records. Such regulations have been designed to reduce the amount of paperwork in tracking medical and healthcare information. By streamlining and standardizing health information, as well as ensuring a confidential and safe means of transmitting health information among medical providers and institutions, there is the perceived likelihood of a reduction in administrative costs of record keeping, as well as a reduction in errors by doctors and hospitals so that there is an overall better quality of care.
Implementing new systems and standards to track medical information may lower the risks of medical malpractice by keeping information stored and accessible in an organized fashion, as well as accessible to a patient’s entire group of medical providers. Through electronic records, doctors may easily have access at the mere authorization of the patient. By having the information easily readable, there may be less of a chance of filling the incorrect prescriptions or using the wrong treatment or drug, as well as less of a chance for doctors to prescribe treatments or drugs that conflict with one another. It can also help keep track of checkup schedules or allow patients easier access to exam results by simply logging in and clicking.
Records and Medical Malpractice
These issues are often at the root of medical malpractice lawsuits, in which medical providers do not properly communicate, or make incorrect and disorganized records of health information. A Harvard Medical School study from a couple of years ago discovered that the number of malpractice claims toward a selected group of physicians covered by the same insurance company decreased after those doctors implemented electronic health records systems. The results are attributed in part to the method of organizing information to reduce mistakes made by medical providers, as well as the paper trail created by the system that provides cleaner documentation and potentially better defenses to such lawsuits.
On the flip side, critics point to the fact that conflicting software and computer systems could actually put a strain on the sharing of information, where some medical providers use one software program while other providers use different programs. Other problems may occur where vital information is archived after a set amount of time and no longer as easily accessible anymore where it is still very much needed and promptly so. There is also the potential for errors in record information just as there would be in handwriting that information in paper records. A typo or incomplete form in a system could still lead to problems in treatment, and consequently malpractice lawsuits all the same. A study at MIT last year demonstrated that worries over malpractice litigation actually deterred physicians from utilizing electronic systems to track medical records.
It will be interesting to see how the evolution of electronic records proceeds, and whether there will be improved quality of care and a reduction in malpractice lawsuits, or just the opposite. Patients should be aware if their providers organize such information electronically, on paper, or in both manners, and understand how important it is for providers to keep accurate information either way.