At some point, Montana residents may visit a doctor for a routine physical or for treatment of a specific aliment. They may also observe their health care provider using digital medical records to access their information. The use of digital medical records at hospitals offers healthcare providers easy, efficient and quick access to patient information, medications, lab results and the like. Because of these benefits, the usage of electronic medical records is expected increase in the next few years.

In fact, electronic medical records are a cornerstone of President Obama’s new health care law. In general, digital medical records are expected to improve medical care provided to patients. However, despite this modernization, a potential for medical errors still exists. The use of electronic medical records has significantly reduced medication errors. Nonetheless, patients have suffered serious injury and even death due to unnecessary surgery, wrong drug doses, due to confusing drop-down menus and because of delays in transmission of health information to their doctors.

According to a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, the number of medical errors reported due to digital records doubled from 2010 to 2011. Nurses at one hospital complained that the system was causing medications to be prescribed to the wrong patients. Nurses at another facility complained of human error during input of data into the system. One hospital reported an increase in mortality rates shortly after the implementation of their electronic system. The study also found that delays in ordering and getting medications to patients resulted in serious harm to patients.

In general, health care providers have an on-going duty to provide a reasonable standard of care. This includes prescribing the right medication, appropriate dosage and ordering the necessary lab tests. If serious harm to a patient were to result because of a flawed electronic system, delay in transmission of health information crucial to provide the necessary care, the patient may be entitled to compensation for the negligent care.


Source: Bloomberg Business Week, “Risks of Digital Health Records Emerge as Deaths Blamed on System,” Jordan Robertson, June 25, 2013.