Mixed reviews still surround electronic medical record systems

Doctors and patients in Illinois may greatly appreciate what technology can do for them in medical situations, but it can also create a number of problems — even medical errors — that could jeopardize patient safety.

Electronic medical records have a range of benefits, including a user-friendly process that is easily accessible by medical professionals, a system that can save time, is less expensive and one that is environmentally friendly. In addition, the federal government has given medical facilities that use paperless systems billions of dollars in incentives. Despite these benefits, there are still dangers with the technology’s use.

Electronic medical record systems can be challenging to learn and confusing for some in the medical field. Simple but dangerous mistakes can also be made when doctors are not careful when using electronic medical records. For example, a doctor could mistakenly enter information into the wrong patient’s chart, which can be hazardous for both patients who are involved in the mix-up.

Data analyzed by the government suggests that about 60,000 negative events are expected to occur on an annual basis once electronic record systems become enabled in all medical offices and facilities throughout the nation.

System crashes are also a risk for any facility that uses electronic records, and administrators need to have a plan for keeping records safe and for quickly recovering records if they become lost during a power outage or crash.

One critic of the technology said she believes the systems will hinder the way physicians work and can cause diagnosis errors. However, many nurses and doctors believe the electronic systems are very helpful for enhancing patient care. One nurse said it is easier for her and the doctors she works with to communicate with each other when they use electronic records. In the medical field, clear communication can make all the difference when treating patients.

There are certainly pros and cons for using electronic medical records. The important thing Chicago patients should understand, though, is that they too can take precautions to make sure the use of electronic medical records does not cause them to experience harm. Patients can ask their doctors to verify that they are looking at the correct record and making notes in the correct patient’s file. Communication amongst medical professionals is important for providing quality care, but so is communication between doctors and their patients.

Source: The New York Times, “The Ups and Downs of Electronic Medical Records,” Milt Freudenheim, Oct. 8, 2012

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