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Are Electronic Medical Records Causing Harmful Treatment Errors?

Dec 11, 2015 - Personal Injury, Tuscaloosa by

Patients who obtain care from a number of different medical professionals face a distinct risk that the variety of treatments they receive might conflict with treatments from prior doctor visits. Under the current health care law, healthcare providers are expected to use Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), which can help avoid health care conflicts by providing all doctors with comprehensive electronic record access for any patient.

While each Tuscaloosa injury attorney at our firm recognizes the clear benefits of better communication between medical providers, we believe that EMRs can potentially reduce communication between the providers in the same facility. Patients need to monitor any provider’s recording practices, particularly during the early phases of complex EMR system use.

Complex EMR Systems Can Shift Focus Away From the Patient

When used properly, EMRs can enhance communications between all providers who treat a particular patient. However, these systems are more complex than the traditional clipboard. In some cases, provider attention shifts from the patient to the EMR, and when that occurs, accidents can happen.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, a noted doctor asserts that EMRs are killing and injuring people, largely due to this shift in focus. He cites an example of a patient in a world-famous university who sustained injury over a relatively simple issue of intravenous fluid administration.

In essence, this patient alternatingly received too much fluid or not enough over a three-day period, eventually resulting in significant injury. It appears that the hospital staff members were so chained to their portable EMR stations that they failed to notice obvious patient signs that would have quickly alerted them to fluid intake issues. The doctor refers to this as channelized attention because the EMR channelized attention to itself, so the nurses paid less attention to the patient’s fluid status.

EMR System Complexities are No Excuse for Negligent Medical Care

Without a doubt, EMR technology can be challenging to use, but medical providers can be deemed negligent if they allow the systems to lead to low levels of care for any of the following reasons:

  • Insufficient training: Medical facilities need to thoroughly train staff members in the use of EMR systems.
  • Monitoring failures: Even when staff training includes testing, no facility should release trainees to use those systems without supervision. Once they gain experience with the systems, periodic monitoring should be part of normal operations.
  • Failure to record: Logging into an EMR can be complicated, so medical providers may choose to hold off on recording until the patient’s visit is complete. This practice can lead to incomplete records.
  • Keyboarding errors: Few people, if any, have perfect typing skills. A simple slip of the fingers can change a medication order from mg to mcg, delivering 1,000 times the required amount of medication to a patient.

It could take many years before the use of EMRs is as reliable as using a thermometer. Patients and their families have limited control over the administration of their medical records, but they can exercise some degree of diligence.

It is important to ask questions about a facility’s recordkeeping practices and safeguards and speak up when recordkeeping is not performed continuously during examination or treatment. That said, when injuries result from negligent recordkeeping, you are encouraged to seek knowledgeable legal support as soon as possible.

Additional Resources:

The Affordable Care Act, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Other Blog topics:

Tuscaloosa Medical Malpractice Claims Often Stem From “Routine” Procedures, Tuscaloosa Medical Malpractice Blog

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