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Do Electronic Records Impact Medical Errors?

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are closely monitoring whether the increasing use of electronic records is resulting in an increase or decrease in medical errors. At this point, the evidence does not seem to point conclusively in one direction, suggesting additional research is needed.

The benefits of electronic medical records are numerous. For instance, they make it easier for doctors to review, share, and update patient medical records. Similarly, electronic prescribing can reduce the likelihood of medication errors and can automatically search for drug allergies and interactions.

However, like all technology, electronic health records systems are not perfect. Studies have documented medical errors in ordering tests or medications as well as other mistakes that result from disrupting a physician’s normal workflow. But the extent of the “glitches” has not been well documented, and it is unclear how these problems may be impacting patient safety.

“In 2012, the debate can not be, should we or shouldn’t we” use electronic records, said Dr. Ashsh Jha, associate professor of health policy at Harvard School of Public Health. “The new question is how do we do it well? How do we not cause harm? . . . That’s the more compelling question and one for which we essentially have no data.”

A recent report by the Institutes of Medicine recommends requiring makers of the systems to report patient injuries or deaths related to the technology to a national database. The report also called for more research and an independent body to investigate when something goes wrong, much like the National Transportation Safety Board investigates aviation accidents. If the private sector does not take actions to ensure the systems are safe, the report said, the Food and Drug Administration should step in, the report recommended.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is taking comments on proposed rules that, if approved in the final version, could establish the reporting database, said David Muntz, principal deputy in that office. Please stay tuned for further updates on this important patient safety issue.

If you or someone you love has suffered from a medical error, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.