Patient Safety Must Be Prioritized in Health Record Digitization

Earlier this week the New York Times published a new story discussing the concerns being raised by many about the safety of digital medical patient records. As our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have previously explained, many advocates were hoping that the shift toward digitization of health records would lead to an improvement in patient safety. In fact, part of the newly passed federal healthcare law included components related to the digitization of medical records.

Yet so far research has shown that electronic medical records may not lead to the improvements desired. Some actually suggest that when the digital systems are not properly designed, the digitization of these records can actually be a threat to patient safety. As reported in the story, a new federal study actually suggests that an independent agency might need to be created to investigate injuries caused by electronic record problems. The report was issued by the Institute of Medicine at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services after public health experts raised concerns. Specifically, these advocates were worried that a drive to switch over to electronic records may lead to a wave of technology errors.

Of course the billions of dollars are currently being spent by the federal government to transition to digital records in order to improve patient care, limit medical mistakes, and ultimately save on medical costs. The new report did not suggest that the shift to digital records should be aborted. However, it did suggest that more care need be exhibited during the transition process. Of course our Chicago injury attorneys appreciate that all procedural changes need to be undertaken carefully.

To ensure that patients are not harmed in the transfer, the report proposes that an investigative body be created modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) body to investigate potential transition issues. As a matter of fairness, the agency should ensure that victims can have a fair hearing. Beyond that, according to the latest report, a tracking system should also be created which would which measure the safety of the records transfer. As part of the recommended patient safety changes, the study called for the companies which supply the electronic records to drop certain clauses in their sales contract which often leads to problems. These “hold harmless” clauses frequently prevent doctors and hospitals form raising concerns about software errors or other defects within the system.

The string of concerns being raised about electronic records should not override the fact that, when done properly, the digitization of medical records could be an important safety improvement at medical centers across the country. But the benefits of the final outcome should not preclude those involved in the transition process from acting cautiously when making the transfer to keep patients safe. Electronic record errors are often hard for patients to catch, because the mistakes can come in a variety of situations-incorrect medications may be given, allergies may be ignored, and a variety of other complications may ultimately be rooted in improper records. In any event, all those who suspect that hospital error was at the root of their medical problem, should visit with a Chicago personal injury lawyer to share their story and learn about their legal options.

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