Paper authors fear rush to digital records will result in accidents

The medical information of Americans around the country is currently being eyed as the next step for digitization. Supporters of the move to electronic medical records (EMRs) claims that a large amount of money could be saved by going to electronic records while opponents to the system say that there are significant privacy issues to be addressed.

President Obama and his administration are big supporters of the migration from paper records to EMRs. The Obama administration has put aside $1.2 billion in grants to start the migration of medical records to digital formats. The move to EMRs could save as much as $77 billion per year in America. The fiscal 2011 federal budget unveiled by Obama this week sets aside an additional $78 million [PDF] to help fund further adoption of IT in healthcare.

The grant money has many health care providers and facilities rushing to migrate to EMRs in an effort to grab part of the funds to help pay for the transition. The problem according to Dean Sittig, PhD, and David Classen, MD, is that in the rush to migrate to digital records, mistakes are likely to be made.

Sittig is an associate professor at The University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston and the lead author of a new paper that proposes better monitoring of electronic health records. Sittig said, "The ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] stimulus is pushing people to take risks. It's like life. If you're late for work, you may drive a little faster than you should. This can lead to accidents."

Sittig claims that evaluation of some EMR systems after installation has found that the systems do not meet the same standards set forth in other industries such as the pharmaceutical and airline industries. Sittig said, "We are building this huge health information technology system that we don't know how to monitor properly. These electronic interventions can adversely affect patient safety and quality of care."

Classen and Sittig say that there needs to be an established organization that practitioners can file complaints with concerning EMR safety issues. Vendors developing software for EMR systems should also have to show that their software is designed for safety and works as designed. The pair also states that organizations should be encouraged to perform self-assessments of EMR use and training on a yearly basis.

Sittig and Classen also believe that The Joint Commission should perform unannounced on-site inspections to check EMR use. A national EMR adverse event investigation board should also be set up according to the pair. The board would work in a manner similar to the National Transportation Safety Board according to the paper.


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