Many hospitals and clinics are making the switch from paper to electronic records. The electronic records are expected to be more efficient and improve health care by making patient records more easily accessible to all who treat them.
Despite the fact that the bad handwriting of doctors will no longer be an issue, the switch to electronic records is expected to be costly and cause some challenges. A recent government study revealed that when electronic records are fully implemented, they could be linked to at least 60,000 adverse events a year.
As part of the President Barack Obama's move to cut health care costs and improve medical service, the federal government is offering as much as $22.5 billion in incentives for going paperless, and also planning to penalize doctors who don't use electronic systems for their Medicare patients. Additionally, hospitals could receive several million dollars a year for meeting federal Medicare performance targets, and face penalties for noncompliance.
However, like most computerized systems, electronic records are susceptible to crashes. The system at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was down for six hours over two days earlier this year, and the hospital has to rely on an alternate database until the problem was fixed.
Electronic records are also limiting the number of patients doctors are able to see due to unfamiliarity with the system, and nurses having difficulties grasping the new technology. Also, the use of different software can cause trouble when sharing information.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends that government creates an agency to deal with patient safety issues, and require software manufacturers to report deaths, serious injuries or unsafe conditions related to information technology.
Source: The New York Times, "The Ups and Downs of Electronic Medical Records," Oct. 12, 2012.
The Daily Herald, "Doctors find electronic medical records painful," Nov. 8, 2012.