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Digital medical records can lead to mistakes

The digitization of medical records has been promoted by President Obama as part of his effort to modernize health care systems in the United States. The shift from paper records to digital records can improve the speed and efficiency of health care by giving doctors quick access to information on patients, such as test results, medication and dosage, medical history and medical images. Now nearly 70 percent of the doctors in the nation use digital medical records.

While digital records have reduced the incidence of some kinds of errors, new kinds of mistakes are cropping up. Consider the case of a doctor who rushed his 84 year old mother to a hospital because he thought she was having a stroke. When they arrived at the hospital he checked his mother's digital records and saw that they contained correct information about a drug she took regularly to control rapid heartbeat. A few days later her heart condition worsened. Her son saw the digital records no longer listed the drug that should have been administered. She died shortly afterwards.

Residents of New Jersey should know that serious errors attributed to electronic records are growing. Sometimes there are errors due to confusing software and data input systems. Any delay in a computer network can slow the delivery of a medical image that is expected immediately. Sometimes unnecessary surgeries have been performed due to incorrect digital records. Research shows that the most dangerous time for patients is right after a new software system goes live.

Unlike manufacturers of medical devices, software companies are not required to report errors involving their products to the FDA. These mistakes often result in serious injury or death. The companies or people responsible should be held accountable.

Source: Bloomberg, "Digital Health Records’ Risks Emerge as Deaths Blamed on Systems", Jordan Robertson, June 25, 2013

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