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Electronic records could help hospitals ID problems quicker

Staff in Michigan hospitals may think they are avoiding blame for their facilities and providers by not recording every little detail about a case, but in essence they are avoiding the opportunity to identify and keep track of preventable problems such as new infections or viruses being spread throughout their facility. Past HHS reports say that as many as 27 percent of patients are harmed as a result of medical negligence. According to HHS inspectors, 44 percent of medical malpractice cases investigated involved preventable complications.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, hospitals are not adhering to state regulations that require them to report when medical care harms a patient. How is that possible? Many providers see medical mistakes or side effects simply as the risk of doing business on a day-to-day basis. It comes with the territory.

University research shows that keeping health care records electronically would trigger the action of medical staff such as quality control officers in the event of a specific, identifiable incident. Some examples might be if a patient is given the wrong dosage of a medication, or requires an antidote, or if a patient's recent white blood cell spike after being sent home, or blood sugar levels are not properly monitored or a surgeon operates on the wrong leg.

If they switched to electronic records, hospitals could identify safety issues in real-time, and there are even incentives built into the 2010 federal health care laws for them to do so. But hospital administrations say they are simply overwhelmed by the new electronic record federal regulations and are not sure which software to invest in.

Source: USA Today, "HHS: Hospitals ignoring requirements to report errors," Kelly Kennedy, July 19, 2012

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