Are you who you say you are? Your EHR might tell another story

Healthy Living

November 5, 2019

If there’s one thing that you want to be accurate, it’s your medical records. Life and death decisions could hang in the balance. Unfortunately, your electronic health records (EHRs) could be riddled with mistakes. Here’s why it happens and what you can do about it. 

Dangers of Incorrect EHRs

When you go to the doctor, you hope to receive the treatment that’s best and most effective for you. If there’s a mix-up in your EHR, however, that might not happen.

For example, if allergy information is missing from your records, the medicine your doctor prescribes could send you into anaphylactic shock. If someone else’s lab results end up in your file, you could be treated for a disease you don’t have. And if your information gets “merged” in the EHR system with someone else’s (someone with the same name but a vastly different medical history), you could have problems getting the right medication or issues with your health insurance paying claims.

Other potential concerns associated with EMR mistakes can include: 

  • Billing errors
  • Improper medication dosing
  • Dangerous medical interactions
  • Repeated or unnecessary testing
  • Missed diagnoses
  • Inaccurate family histories
  • Inability to reach the right family members in an emergency

Why EHRs Can Be Inaccurate

Despite the importance of accurate medical records, there are a number of factors that lead to incorrect health records, from human error to machine malfunctions. You could have an inaccurate EHR due to any, all or some combination of the following factors:

Inefficient interfaces

Doctors and other medical staff are busy, so they need to enter medical data quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, EHR systems don’t always make that easy. These programs can be slow to load and difficult to navigate. Limited options in drop-down menus can also hinder a provider’s ability to enter thorough information. 

Lack of integration

Healthcare providers have a wide assortment of EHR programs from which to choose, so a hospital system might run on an entirely different platform than the one used by the lab that runs its pathology tests. Ideally, providers would be able to seamlessly port information from one platform to another. In reality, however, integration isn’t always so smooth. Only recently have major EHR systems been working on improving communication between competing brands. And it’s not even close to seamless, even from one provider to another or between departments at the same hospital.

Identification mistakes

You might have noticed on medical bills that you’re assigned an account number. But those numbers aren’t consistent from one provider to another. When combining records across providers, office staff must use other means of identification, such as names and birthdates. It can be fairly easy for one person’s medical data to get inserted into the record of someone with similar identifying information, especially in large offices with lots of patients or patients with the same name.

Human Error

Hurried medical workers may input information incorrectly. Just one wrong stroke of a key could lead to a significant error in your EHR. This isn’t a new issue, of course. Paper records contained such mistakes as well. Providers are human, and while they take greater precautions than your average human given the sensitive data they handle every day, your doctors and their staff can – and do – still make mistakes, especially when it comes to the clunky, user-unfriendly technology in which EHRs are stored.

How to Check Your EHRs for Accuracy

How often do serious errors in recordkeeping occur? One study showed that between 2013 and 2016, at least 557 safety incidents in Pennsylvania alone were directly related to EHR concerns. You might take comfort in the fact that those represented just a small fraction of the over 1.7 million safety reports included in the study.

However, if an incident happens to you, the statistical probability won’t matter so much. You’ll want to do what you can to not be one of the people facing dangerous consequences because of an EHR error. Through careful analysis of your medical records, you may be able to identify and rectify mistakes before they cause any damage. 

Right to Records

Your medical records belong to you. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) guarantees Americans’ right to access their medical records. The law covers both paper and digital copies.

In fact, you can request that providers give you access in your preferred format, such as through email delivery or on a USB flash drive. Some healthcare systems have online portals for patient access. Electronic delivery should always be free, though some providers charge fees for paper copies.

Many providers will require that you fill out a form or put your request in writing. You can ask for full or partial records. You’ll want your entire record if you plan to comb through it for accuracy.

You can obtain your own records as well as the EHRs of people for whom you’re the personal representative, such as your minor children. You may need to furnish proof that you have the legal right to serve as someone’s personal representative. 

The Next Step

As you go through your medical records, be on the lookout for mistakes. There might be errors in your personal information or your family history. You might spot incorrect details about diagnoses, allergies, treatments or prescriptions.

If you find an error, contact your medical provider and ask to have the mistake corrected. Whoever made the error should be the one to correct it. Ideally, this will be a smooth process, and the provider will readily agree to make the change. Federal regulations mandate that the provider must acknowledge your request.

There may be instances when providers deny your correction requests because they disagree with your assessment that the information is incorrect. However, even if the provider refuses to make an official correction to your EHR, you’re legally entitled to add a notice about the disagreement to your file. 

Get Organized

Once you’ve begun the process of obtaining your medical records, it’s smart to keep them organized. This will make it easier to sort through your past records, and you’ll have a system in place for filing future information as it becomes available.

Personal health record (PHR) software is designed for this purpose. PHRs are typically online or cloud-based tools with which you can organize and view your medical data. Each time you have new records to add, you can scan through them to check for accuracy. Your health insurance company may offer a free PHR option, but your data might not be portable to another system if you switch insurance companies. You may want to choose an independent system, many of which are available at no cost.

Staying on top of your EHRs can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. Someday, the work that you do to ensure the accuracy of your records could even save your life.