Electronic records present risks and benefits for patients

The switch to electronic health records has benefits, but may be leading to new kinds of medical errors.

Health care facilities, spurred on by federal incentives, are quickly switching from paper to electronic health records. The switch to electronic records is being made partly based on a belief that electronic records will cut down on medical errors caused by poor handwriting and difficult-to-access paper records. While there certainly appear to be some safety benefits from electronic records, the switch is also creating new problems that could be endangering patient safety, according to Medscape. Electronic records systems that are poorly designed or counter-intuitive could be leading to medical errors with the potential to cause serious harm.

A new danger

Concerns about electronic health records are growing quickly. The potential harm that a simple typo could cause, for example, could be serious. A slip of a finger could lead to a patient being prescribed a much higher dosage of medication than is safe. Additionally, electronic records can make it easier for doctors to misidentify the records for two patients who share similar names. That sort of misidentification could lead to incorrect notes or instructions being left on one patient's record.

Critics of electronic health records say the software used has been designed with administrative and bureaucratic concerns in mind, rather than with the concerns and realities faced by doctors and medical professionals. For example, many health records systems only allow records for one patient to be edited at a time, which can present dangers in the fast-moving ER environment where doctors may be expected to edit multiple patient records at once. Other problems have arisen from drop-down menus being difficult to use and information being confusingly displayed.

Some patient benefits

While electronic records are creating some new risks, it is important to note that patients have been able to benefit from them in other ways as well. Indeed, the problem of messy handwriting is largely a thing of the past with electronic records. Furthermore, the systematization of records allows doctors to more easily access a patient's medical history, thus leading to better informed medical decisions.

In medical malpractice cases as well, electronic records are benefiting some patients by allowing them to gather more evidence that could assist them. In some cases, for example, discrepancies have arisen between what has been displayed on a computer screen and what has been printed out and submitted as evidence at court, discrepancies that can often favor a plaintiff's case. For example, in one instance, according to Politico, the printed electronic records claimed that a patient received multiple physician interviews despite the fact that she had been comatose when the interviews were supposedly conducted.

Medical malpractice

Medical errors can occur for a variety of reasons and even something as small as a typo can have life-changing consequences for patients. Anybody who has been the victim of possible medical malpractice should get in touch with an attorney today. An experienced attorney will be able to fight for the rights of injured patients, including by possibly helping them pursue financial compensation.