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Electronic medical records could help prevent errors

People assume that physicians are aware of the most state-of-the-art technologies, but some physicians appear to be ignoring one technology that could help prevent fatalities.

Last month, we wrote about the potential risk electronic devices pose. A survey found that the devices may be distracting for some medical professionals. Despite the findings, the U.S. secretary for health and human services is encouraging more doctor's offices and hospitals to use electronic medical records as a way to improve patient care, and to minimize the risk of surgical mistakes and other errors made by medical professionals.

Close to 200,000 people die from medical errors every year. However, many of those errors could be prevented through the use of electronic medical records. EMRs allow doctors to more easily coordinate a patient's treatment by being able to schedule future appointments, order prescriptions and even work with insurance companies. In addition to saving time and money, it can also save lives.

The secretary for health and human services notes that the number of medical facilities using EMRs has doubled in the last two years. However, many have failed to make the switch, and continue to sort through mountains of paperwork.

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act was passed to encourage the use of electronic medical records. Under the legislation, doctor's offices and hospitals may be eligible to receive compensation for switching from paper charts to digital versions that store medical history, medications, immunizations, allergies, test results and past diagnoses.

When used responsibly, it appears that electronic medical records could be hugely beneficial for doctors and their patients. With thousands of lives affected by medical errors each year, it seems obvious that physicians and other medical professionals should be doing all they can to prevent future errors.

Source: Forbes, "In Healthcare, Records Can Be a Matter of Life and Death," Ana Cantu, Jan. 5, 2012

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