A doctor who does not look into your eyes and actually listen to your complaints and concerns may misdiagnose your medical condition. A diagnosis mistake is a serious error, preventing you from receiving the timely treatment you may need.
Electronic medical records are the new norm in doctors’ offices across the U.S., and for the most part that’s a good thing. Electronic records can prevent errors cause by incorrectly interpreting handwritten records. But some studies indicate that doctors who are using electronic records may be spending less time actively listening to their patients.
Why Electronic Records?
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 requires doctors to switch to electronic medical records systems or face penalties. The idea behind such computer programs is to reduce medical errors by streamlining the record-keeping process. Without having to worry about doctors’ notoriously sloppy handwriting or the overabundance of papers in a traditional medical file, electronic medical records can keep everything organized and standardized.
With a good system, your doctor can enter information that is immediately available to the radiologist you see across town. This shift in technology should improve communication among medical professionals, and in that regard, it’s a positive change.
Medical offices that do not adopt a system of electronic medical records face reduced Medicare and Medicaid payments, so most if not all are complying.
Systems Not Perfect
The shift towards electronic records has also created some unintended and negative effects.
As Forbes reports, one recent study found that doctors using electronic systems spend one-third of their time in exam rooms looking at their computer screen. With traditional records, only about 9% of the time is spent looking at them. For doctors in training, the time spent with patients is even less—an estimated 8 minutes per patient per day, according to a report in the New York Times.
In some places, the problem has gotten so overwhelming that doctors are hiring “scribes” or people to follow them around from exam to exam with the laptop in hand, inputting information so the doctor can focus on the patient. But not every clinic, hospital, or practitioner can afford such a luxury.
Another problem is that computerized records make it too easy to copy information from the last visit and the one before that. The information in a patient’s file may be so old it’s not only irrelevant but could prevent an accurate diagnosis.
Sometimes patient information such as marital status and occupation are not being updated but simply carried over from visit to visit. Information such as how many children a woman has had may not be up to date. In one case reported by Forbes, a record showed incorrectly that a patient had had a BKA (below the knee amputation) instead of DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). It took awhile before his medical team discovered the patient had both legs.
Electronic Records Cannot Prevent Poor Judgment by Doctors
But electronic records cannot preclude preventable errors caused by doctors who make poor judgments that cause serious harm to patients.
In January 2014, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board suspended the license of an 83-year-old doctor whom court records link to the drug-related deaths of 31 people, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.
The doctor, who was the medical director of a community health center, was reportedly pre-signing prescription forms and allowing physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances. The Indiana Medicaid Fraud Control Unit submitted an affidavit saying 31 of the doctor’s patients had died of drug-related deaths since 2009.
If you suspect you or a family member has been a victim of a preventable medical error, a medical malpractice lawyer may be able to help you understand what really happened and what your legal options are.