Could an electronic medical record mistake put you in danger?

Almost every hospital, clinic and doctor's office now relies on electronic medical records to keep track of their patient's medical histories. For many patients, this could be a nightmare.

There's a tendency to think that electronic records are somehow safer and more accurate than handwritten ones. That's a mistake. Electronic records are only as good as the information entered into them -- and that information is entered by human beings that are oh-so-fallible.

The good thing about electronic records is that they do tend to eliminate problems that go along with bad handwriting. Nurses and doctors no longer have to guess what something says when they can't read the last person's writing. Electronic records are also good at keeping track of changes -- which can also eliminate a few problems with accuracy.

But they do not eliminate mistakes in a patient's records altogether. In fact, 86 percent of the mistakes made in health care are considered "administrative" in nature. That includes things like dispensing the wrong prescription, forgetting to record a patient's drug allergy, overlooking information in a medical record that's important and similar issues.

In fact, there's some indication that electronic health records may increase the number of medication errors that patients experience. Mistakes are massively unreported, so it's hard to tell how many medication errors are caused by such things as incorrect data entry when someone is recording a patient's medications or errors in documenting a doctor's dosing instructions. In some cases, the data systems themselves increase the likelihood of a mistake because the systems can be poorly designed and difficult for users to navigate.

Patients need to be conscious of the fact that electronic medical records are no more likely to be accurate than the old-fashioned paper kind of records. In some ways, they may be worse. It's smart to go over your medical records with your provider periodically in order to look for errors and clear up any confusion.

If you've been the victim of medical malpractice due to a medication error or similar issue, consider getting legal advice about your rights.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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