EHR Means “Electronic Health Records” Right? Nope – How About “Errors Happen Regularly”

Bring medicine into the digital age. EHR’s promised better care, patient empowerment and lower cost. Instead we got preventable deaths, brain injuries, amputated limbs and doctors committing suicide at 2X the general population. What happened? Are you affected? Yes. What can you do?

Just ten years ago most doctors’ offices looked like the photo – reams of paper records. Although digital technology was an ever increasing presence in medicine with PET’s, CAT’s, MRI’s, Ultrasounds – you name it; medical records and the back office were mired in the 1970”s: phone, paper and fax.

Then came the great recession in 2008. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, notably said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Boom! $780 Million gets devoted to every wish list you can imagine with the goal of jump-starting the economy again. Out of that came $36 Billion targeted to the HITECH Act of 2009. Medicine in the U.S. was going to enter the digital age by an incented, wide-scale adoption of Electronic Health Records.

Unfortunately, there was no one specification or standard. So, everybody put in their good ideas as to the ideal requirements of a system. Different agencies put forth their thoughts motivated by their own particular interests, all with the best of intentions – and we all know what road that paves. The new standards would be all things to all people. The Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in – and I mean big time: remember it’s software – if can go wrong, it will.

Fortune recently published an excellent comprehensive study on the consequences:  deaths, lost limbs, mental impairments and more. The impact was, and is, shocking. Systems don’t talk to another, so tests ordered are never done. Better yet, records are not easily transferable, so consulting physicians are unable to understand their new patient’s symptomatic and treatment history. It is so bad that an organization arises called: EHR – Errors Happen Regularly to raise awareness and hopefully get some fixes done.

It gets worse. Because doctors are now filling out endless computer screens, the doctor/patient interactions deteriorate. Gallows humor seeps into the profession. Phrases like: “God forbid I made eye contact with a patient the other day” start making the rounds. Doctors are becoming truly depressed by these new digital tools. Their suicide rate climbs to up to twice the average for our society.

After ten years the flaws are obvious but not the fixes. Legislators/regulators are trying to remedy issues, like record portability across different EHR’s. But, we are just at the beginning of this journey and there is a long way to go. What can you do? Check your own records. Of those who did, 20% found errors.

BTW, how do you feel?

By John Pientka


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