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Do electronic health records prevent medical mistakes?

During the waning years of the 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st, there was a big, bipartisan, political push to implement electronic health records throughout the United States, including Louisiana. Republican leaders George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich were in favor of EHR implementation, but it was during the Obama administration that the government started offering financial incentives to health care facilities large and small to adopt the system, appropriating a significant portion of federal stimulus funds expressly for that purpose.

According to Fortune Magazine, the theory behind electronic health records was that they would improve the quality of patient care by having one comprehensive health record for every patient, containing all his or her medical history and information, accessible by every medical facility where the patient might require treatment. In addition, patients would theoretically have quick and easy access to their own records on a regular basis. Supposedly, these features would cut down on the number of medical mistakes due to omissions and errors in the patient's medical record. 

Unfortunately, the interoperability promised by the EHR system never came to fruition. There are over 700 vendors administering EHR systems at facilities throughout the United States, and most of their systems are incompatible with others due to the proprietary software used in each one. As a result, patients may now have multiple records across multiple facilities that may contain errors or omissions.

In part because of the rush to implement electronic health records quickly in order to take advantage of government subsidies, the systems have caused compromises in patient care due to software bugs and unintuitive user interfaces that lead to errors at the data entry level. These glitches have since caused thousands of serious injuries and patient deaths in health care facilities across the country, and health care professionals report that they now spend as much, or more, time navigating electronic records as treating patients.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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