Thursday, 3 February 2011

Study Downplays Patient Safety Effect of Electronic Medical Records

A new study suggests that there is no association between the use of electronic medical records at hospitals and improved patient safety. However, Arizona patient safety lawyers would warn against using these studies to shoot down the benefits of EMR systems altogether.

The study was published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It looked at data between 2005 and 2007, and measured how electronic medical records fared against a list of 20 quality indicators. Researchers say they found no link between the use of electronic medical records at the facility, and better or enhanced patient care.

According to the study, the only field where medical records actually enhanced patient care was in the area of patient diets. Electronic medical records were found to be very useful in prescribing diets to high-risk patients who suffer from cardiac disease or diabetes, and are required to be on a restricted diet. However, they found no difference in the rates of giving aspirin to persons suffering from coronary artery disease or administering medication to patients suffering from depression, when electronic medical records were used.

The study also found that the use of clinical decision support systems or alerts to healthcare providers, resulted in improvement in just one field - avoiding routine electrocardiography tests prescribed to lower risk patients. There have been other studies and reviews conducted recently, which show a similar lack of association between the use of electronic medical records and enhanced patient care.

However, many of the studies were conducted at least a few years ago. For instance, the study looked at data between 2005 and 2007, and we’re now in 2011. The systems that are being used in the healthcare industry are now much more sophisticated. Besides, if hospitals are not finding that systems improve patient care, it could be that the systems have not been designed to be user-friendly.

In any case, it's far too early to shoot down electronic medical records altogether. There's likely a learning curve, and over the next few years, we could find that these EMR systems enhance patient safety.

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