Electronic Medical Records & Medical Malpractice

In the modern age of electronic information, federal law has pushed hospitals and other healthcare providers to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems to manage patient health information and to coordinate patient care.  Since 1996, Congress has passed several laws that were intended to bring patient care into the digital age, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, and most recently the 21st Century Cures Act.  According to Fortune Magazine, 96% of hospitals have adopted some form of EMR system. However, the current state of EMR has created dangers to patients that did not exist before now.

Complicated Systems

Doctors and hospitals use EMR systems for everything from scheduling patient appointments, issuing prescription renewals and tracking test results, to sending patient records to other healthcare providers and billing patients and insurance companies for the care provided.  Before EMR software became so common, these tasks were handled by people: office staff, nurses, or doctors themselves.  Now, many of these tasks are managed by a piece of software, and the details are often invisible to a provider.

For example, a family doctor might order a patient to get a diagnostic test at a local hospital or outpatient health clinic.  That order is created by the EMR system using a template where most of the information necessary to order the test is filled in automatically by the computer program.  This information usually includes the contact information for the ordering doctor, the outpatient clinic, and the patient himself.  That type of contact information is often programmed into the EMR system by office staff long ahead of the creation of the order.  If any of that contact information changes and is not updated in the EMR system, any order created using that information may cause a delay in getting the results back to the office or a failure to get the results altogether.

Poor Staff Training

Most companies that publish EMR software have training materials that should be given to doctors and office staff about how to operate the EMR software.  However, staff turnover and the level of complexity in EMR software can make even the best training programs ineffective.

In the example above, the EMR system that created the diagnostic test order might, at the same time, start an automatic “reminder” alert that is supposed to pop up after one or two weeks to remind the doctor’s office to follow up on the test that was ordered.  However, these “reminders” are often insufficient to prompt follow up.  The alert itself might be too short or written in confusing language that does not actually inform the reader what he is being “reminded” of.  The EMR system often allows these “reminders” to be reset with one click, just like the snooze button on an alarm clock, without any action being taken by the office.  In some cases, these “reminders” can be reset every week for months without any action being taken by the office.

Poor Communication

EMR software was intended to make communicating between different healthcare providers simpler and more efficient.  The idea is that medical records can be instantly sent directly from one medical office to another without the need to rely on old-fashioned communication tools like mail or fax.  However, EMR systems themselves often create new barriers in communication and force doctors and hospitals to take extra steps in transmitting records.  According to Fortune Magazine, there are more than seven hundred (700!) different companies making EMR systems, and there is no standard within the industry about how any of these different software programs are required to communicate.  Imagine putting your hand into a box with 700 different styles of lightbulbs and trying to fit the bulb you pull out into one specific light socket.

In the example above, if the family doctor and the outpatient clinic use different EMR software that is not set up to communicate directly with one another, the only way to get the order for the diagnostic test to the clinic, or the results of that test back to the family doctor, is through old-fashioned methods like fax, mail, or a patient carrying the documents back and forth by hand.  Then the documents must be scanned and uploaded to the EMR system at the receiving provider’s office.  The extra steps involved can lead to lost paperwork, missed diagnoses, and harm to patients.

Injured & Seeking Legal Advocacy in Albuquerque? Contact Us

These are just a few of the many ways in which modern EMR systems can harm patients and lead to medical negligence.  If you believe that you or a loved one have been hurt by bad use of EMR, call us and tell us what happened.  We will always listen to you and we may be able to get you compensation for your injuries.

Contact us at your earliest convenience by calling (505) 640-3134.

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