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Can electronic health records affect Californians' health care?

Changes and advances in technology play a role in the lives of many California residents. From smart phones to cars that park themselves, technology is changing how we live in many ways. Advances in technology are also visible in the field of health care, from the medical treatments available to advanced drug formulations and even for record-keeping.

It is becoming more common for hospitals and doctors' offices to use electronic health records, rather than more traditional forms of paper record-keeping. While electronic record-keeping can offer benefits, it may also decrease the quality of patient care if those who use the systems make mistakes or intentionally try to work around the system, thereby compromising patient safety.

Guidelines recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST, stemming from a study they performed on electronic health records, aim to encourage patient safety and prevent doctor errors that may be common in use of electronic health records. The findings of the NIST indicate that for electronic health records to be safe, the systems need to be set up so that it is difficult for a doctor or other user to make a mistake by inputting data into the wrong chart.

Their findings suggest that for electronic health records to be safe and effective, information must be properly identified, including patient and medication identification. Also, records must be used in a consistent manner to reduce error, and there must be what the NIST identifies as integrity of information. If the electronic system is too difficult to navigate or hard to use, mistakes may be more likely.

Electronic health records may offer improvements over more traditional methods of record-keeping, but they can also present dangers to California patients if not used properly. A patient whose health care has been compromised in connection with electronic health records may have a legal cause of action. He or she may wish to consult with an attorney to discuss his or her legal options.

Source: npsf.org, "EHR Usability and Patient Safety," accessed Nov. 13, 2015

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