Study Shows Electronic Medical Records May Do More Harm than Good
Many are touting electronic medical records (known as EMRs) as lifesaving, labor-saving and time-saving. However, despite the boasted advantages of using online technology to store a patient’s medical information, a recent study by the Rand Corporation found that hospitals that switched to EMRs had negligible gains in quality measures. In fact, in some areas the switches seemed to cause problems with patient care.
The study focused on three areas of care: pneumonia, heart failure and heart attack.
From 2003 to 2007, all three areas showed broad improvement at the hospitals studied-both those with EMR systems and those without. And, the quality scores for heart failure improved even more at hospitals that did use EMRs. Unfortunately, those same gains were not seen in the areas of pneumonia and heart attack.
Surprisingly, the gains in quality were higher for hospitals that had not implemented an EMR system at all than for those that had advanced EMR systems. Furthermore, hospitals that either began using EMR systems for the first time or upgraded to more advanced systems had less improvement in patient quality than those that made no changes to their medical records. Taken together, these findings seem to indicate that the process of learning a complex new system introduces errors and problems.
Those that analyze the medical field suggest that the implementation of EMRs, while perhaps eventually leading to better patient care, can disrupt the routine of a clinic or hospital, thereby causing problems. The errors could be minor-like mistakes in billing-or, could potentially be life-threatening-like mistakes in diagnosis or prescriptions.
Although switching from paper files to EMRs is expensive for some medical offices, the trend will likely continue. Enticements, like the $27 billion incentive as provided for in the 2009 federal stimulus bill, has encouraged many doctors and hospitals to make the switch.
In the coming years, everyone who visits a doctor’s office should be aware of possible EMR problems and potential errors in their records. Patients are encouraged to report it to the doctor’s office if they suspect any inaccuracies.