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Could Your Electronic Medical Record Put Your Health at Risk?

Research increasingly suggests that electronic medical records (EMR) may not reduce medical errors, but rather simply alter how they occur.

A recent Forbes article illustrates how mistakes may happen:

An intern reported during rounds that a newly admitted patient was “status post BKA (below the knee amputation).” Although the status was noted in three discharge reports, doctors were surprised to find that both of the patient’s feet were intact. It turns out that the voice recognition dictation system used by one of the patient’s prior physicians misunderstood DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) as BKA, and no one had picked up on the error.

In the case described above, the medical record error did not result in harm. However, patients are not always so lucky. The majority of EMR errors involve medication mistakes, such as administering the wrong drug or an incorrect dose, which can lead to serious complications and even death.

The use of electronic medical records can also compromise patient care by decreasing the time doctors spend actually speaking with patients. In fact, researchers with Northwestern University recently found that “physicians with [EMRs] in their exam rooms spend one-third of their time looking at computer screens, compared with physicians who use paper charts who only spent about 9% of their time looking at them.”

As further highlighted by Enid Montague, PhD, first author of the study, “When doctors spend that much time looking at the computer, it can be difficult for patients to get their attention… It’s likely that the ability to listen, problem-solve and think creatively is not optimal when physicians’ eyes are glued to the screen.”

Given the potential risks, patients should take an active role in monitoring their EMRs. This may involve obtaining a copy of your medical record and reviewing it thoroughly, monitoring your prescription medications, and keeping a personal copy of any diagnostic tests.