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Since a government mandate required American healthcare providers to transition to electronic medical records, paper medical charts are rapidly becoming extinct.  Has the move to digital health data fulfilled its promise or introduced a new host of potentially deadly problems?

Technological Advancements a Constant in Medical Industry

New technology and the medical industry go hand-in-hand. Scientific and technological research fuels new treatments and medicines to safeguard health and return wellness.  A recent article in Fortune compares the hoped-for benefits of electronic health records (EHRs) against the digital boondoggle that many providers and patients deal with today.

Some of the problems of EHRs include:

  • Injury to patients: Digitized medical records are only as accurate as the data input by human providers.  Additionally, even when medical data is duly entered, software malfunctions can cause serious injury to patients.  Just some of the problems attributed to EHRs include lost medical data, inaccurate medication lists (including quantity and type of meds), misidentified patient records and glitches that send test reports or results nowhere.
  • Administrative time: Physicians now spend valuable treatment time working on the medical record instead of talking to patients.  This can introduce error and reduce the 1:1 contact between doctor and patient or require that a physician put in long hours afterward trying to catch up with the “paperwork.”
  • Healthcare fraud: From inappropriate billing to Medicare and Medicaid, to inaccurate treatment coding, software that integrates treatment and billing has enormous potential for healthcare fraud.  The Fortune article reports two EHR vendors have already paid out penalties of more than $200 million—a sum that is probably the tip of the iceberg.

Along with these unforeseen problems, EHRs have delivered some anticipated and unanticipated benefits:

  • Medical scribes, administrative aides in the ER or medical practice, may relieve some of the burden of recording medical data. Overseen by physicians, scribes allow doctors to spend more time with patients, and help patients move out the door more quickly once they have seen their doctor.
  • As EHRs become “smarter,” patients may benefit. A recent study from Penn Medicine discusses that doctors may provide more preventative therapy options to patients when prompted by the dashboarding of their EHR.
  • In the same light, EHR software can assist with diagnostics and decision trees, giving physicians the benefit of current research, and ultimately, Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In five to ten years, electronic health records will be different.  Time will reveal whether digitization ultimately reduces—or raises—the risk of patient harm.

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