EHR (Electric Health Records) are digital versions of a patient’s paper charts. It’s not uncommon these days to visit your doctor and have them hand you a tablet to fill out your paperwork instead of a clipboard and pen. Rather than seeing rows upon rows of patient charts neatly filed behind the reception desk, medical information is now being utilized in an electronic form.

The implementation of electronic health records, or EHR, didn’t really become mainstream until the last handful of years, as medical facilities across the country had risen to a 72% compliance rate by 2012. Integrating a long-standing practice into an EHR format can be time-consuming and brings a host of challenges as workflow processes and staff member’s comfort with technology have to be assessed.

However, the use of EHR is now considered the norm as offices have had the chance to go through their own learning curves. Opinions about this tech can vary dramatically, with some professionals stating that it’s completely revolutionized their practice for the better, despite the fact that the majority of professionals are finding themselves unhappy with it. In fact, according to survey done by iHealth Beat, 42 percent of respondents described their EHR system’s ability to improve efficiency as difficult or very difficult.  But the ultimate question should address how this technology is serving patients and whether the systems are actually all they’ve been cracked up to be.

Where EHR Can Go Wrong

Aside from the fact that patients don’t see their doctor holding a chart in their hand anymore, how has the EHR system affected patient care and the reliability of record keeping? Let’s take a look at a few real-life examples of EHR at its worst.

Sometimes, the mistakes caused by an electronic health record system can be more of a patient inconvenience than anything else. One Central California man recently visited an imaging center to get an MRI completed. He remembered his neurologist stating that the procedure would take place using contrast material, yet when he mentioned it to the technician, they simply said the work order didn’t say as such.

Questioning the accuracy of his test, the man requested that the imaging center double check with his physician before moving forward. The imaging center refused, stating that they are only allowed to complete testing and procedures based on the computer’s information.

Utilizing EHR in fast-paced settings is often a breeding ground for costly computer mistakes. One man was admitted to the emergency room with breathing complications as well as a host of other pre-existing health conditions. Since his medical record was already quite lengthy, the chaos of a busy ER allowed for several mistakes to be entered into his chart.

A biopsy was performed on another patient and accidentally entered into this man’s chart, thus causing him extreme concern upon hearing the incorrect news that he had cancer. He was also administered incorrect medication as a result of the error.

How Can Patients Protect Themselves?

Just because you can’t touch and feel your medical chart doesn’t mean you can’t be privy to the information it contains. Given that any one of your providers is susceptible to human error, it is worth a little extra effort to keep an eye on your information and address changes if needed.

Here are a few ways that you can stay informed about the content and accuracy of your electronic health record at any of your doctor’s offices:

  • Get access to your chart – Some practices utilize a patient portal, where individuals can log in using a secure password to view their chart, patient plan, and even billing information. It’s a good idea to check your portal after each visit to your doctor to make sure all of the information looks correct. If online access isn’t available, you can always request hard copies of your records from your provider.
  • Consider using your own system – Just because your providers utilize any one of the many EHR systems out there doesn’t mean you have to for your own record keeping. Whether it’s a paper file system or an online spreadsheet, having an easy way to cross-reference records and update changes to your medications will go a long way toward consistent charting in the office.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Many EHR systems will have options for physicians to select that don’t actually apply to you, but if they can somehow prove that services were discussed or certain conditions were documented, they can actually receive more money when they bill your insurance. If anything in your record looks suspicious, don’t just write it off.

The Future of EHR Systems

If you’ve been the victim of an EHR error and hope this technology goes away, you might be waiting a while. Despite the fact that EHR systems don’t actually save providers much money, trends are showing that new functionalities for documentation and insurance reimbursements are on the horizon, offering valuable tools for medical organizations. Begin taking more control of your own health records by utilizing some of the tips above and remember that computer systems can be flawed as long as humans operate them.