government urges cooperation on digital medical records but is that enough

Pittsburgh residents might know that the medical community is slowly but surely adopting digital records to maintain patient information. Advocates of digital records say they are more comprehensive, less error-prone and easier to cross-check and share than are paper records.

But, of course, no system is perfect. If mistakes get made in creating, sharing or storing the records, that can lead to a doctor having inaccurate information, and thus to patient harm.

Last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services called for the companies that develop electronic-record systems and medical institutions to work together more closely to prevent recordkeeping errors that cause harm to patients.

What concerns us is that it stopped there, without advocating for a federal requirement that software or recordkeeping errors that lead to patient harm be reported. Indeed, one policy analyst noted that everything the department urged was “voluntary.” He called the measures pushed for “baby steps.”

Because we practice medical malpractice law, we know that transparency and accountability are absolutely vital. It is already difficult for patients to be informed consumers of healthcare, and if they do not have access to what is going on behind the scenes, so to speak, they are at even more of a disadvantage.

Also, if a watchdog is keeping a tally of who commits what sort of errors, it is easier to see trends or patterns. We need this bird’s-eye view to understand if changes are needed and, if so, what sort of changes.

The bottom line is this: Whatever we can do to protect patients is a good thing and something we ought to pursue, be that in digital recordkeeping or elsewhere.

Source: Kaiser Health News, “HHS Stops Short Of Calling For Safety Regulation Of Digital Records,” Jay Hancock, Dec. 21, 2012

  • For further relevant information on medical malpractice, you could consider visiting our Medical Malpractice page.

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