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Readers Write: Not Safer!

Not Safer!
By Ruth Bowen, MBA, CPHQ, CPHIMS

I’m an HIT professional in Philadelphia who lives in an area that supports multiple competing health networks. I am old enough to have a robust problem history and to have records that span multiple networks.

Having worked in this industry for 30 years, I am definitely a believer in the potential of EMR systems. But frankly, I am less safe.

All of my outpatient providers went from paper to a digital record. There wasn’t an opportunity for a conversion. Each of these practice systems took a different approach in terms of what data would initially populate the EMR. There are no standards here, only guidelines. There can be significant expense in terms of abstracting data from a paper record. Much of the data available in my paper records has just disappeared.

In one case, the paper record was simply scanned. I arrived for a visit with no problem list and no medication history and was treated as a new patient. The practice was dependent on my memory of events over 10+ years. In other cases, there was a subset of data, but in each case, most of the history was unavailable. The paper chart may have been scanned, but physicians do not page through images of paper record, so I consider the information unusable.

None of these EMR implementations has an interface from the laboratory system I use. In most cases, a subset of available laboratory results is transcribed into the electronic record. Although the physician also has a copy of the current paper lab results at the time of visit, the history of results in the EMR is incomplete and likely has transcription errors.

One of my physicians used to manually maintain a paper flowsheet for a subset of results significant to his specialty. That history is gone. His system doesn’t support the view he formerly had and there is no historical data that could populate a flowsheet or graph even if the capability was available.

The result is an increased personal safety risk related to multiple EMRs that are incomplete, each with a different subset of data. As it turns out, my responsibility in terms of patient engagement is record reconciliation at the time of visit, a reconciliation that is totally dependent on my memory. Not, I think, what ONC intended.

Ruth Bowen, MBA, CPHQ, CPHIMS is an independent HIT professional in Chesterbrook, PA.