Protect yourself against electronic health record-related medical errors

March 17, 2020 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
healthcare documents

A carefully reviewed, comprehensive electronic health record can save lives and reduce the risk of medical errors and inappropriate treatment and duplicate diagnostic testing. For example, if you are unconscious and unable to answer questions about your medical history and medications, an electronic record can provide the answers you’re unable to so physicians can quickly deliver the treatment you need. Electronic health records can also be helpful if you become ill or injured while away from home or out of the country. Your medical information can be instantly shared with the physicians treating you.

But electronic health records may also open the possibility of serious medical errors in some cases. Quantros, a firm specializing in healthcare analytics, gathered data related to 18,000 electronic health record safety events from 2007 to 2018. Three percent of these events caused harm to patients, with seven deaths related to the errors. Electronic medical records have also been linked with medication errors in hospitals. Patient safety advocacy organization The Leapfrog Group reported that computerized physician order entry systems failed to flag 39% of potentially dangerous medication orders and 13% of potentially fatal medication orders. And a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 1 in 5 patients surveyed found an error in their electronic medical record, including incorrect information on their medical history, incorrect diagnostic test results, and incorrect information about prescription medications.

The errors can have several different causes, from physicians inputting the wrong information or failing to complete a task fully to electronic health record systems that can’t communicate with each other. This can cause serious problems when people see more than one physician or receive care at different hospitals.

There are a number of strategies that can help you lower your risk of experiencing a medical error related to your electronic health record:

  • Enlist the support of an expert. A health advisor or care manager can review your complete medical record, checking for completeness and accuracy as well as making sure you receive all results from diagnostic tests and get the appropriate follow-up testing and care. Because your medical record can change frequently, especially if you’re living with a chronic condition or are undergoing treatment for a serious disease such as cancer, it’s important that your record be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
  • Check your record: You’re also an important part of the effort to prevent errors in your electronic health record. Ask all the physicians you see and hospitals where you receive care to provide you with a copy of your records and review them carefully. Check to make sure basic information like your name, age, address, and Social Security number are correct, then review your health history, list of current medications, diagnoses, and results from any diagnostic tests.
  • Make sure errors are corrected: If you find errors in your medical records, report the mistakes to your physician and the hospital’s medical records department if the error is related to care received at a hospital. Don’t assume that reporting the error means it has been corrected. Ask for a corrected copy of your record so you can doublecheck that the errors have been fixed.