Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ObamaMESS: The Rush to Electronic Medical Records could be Hazardous to Your Health

Theresa Robertson’s bedside oxygen alarm sounded at 2:52 a.m., sending an urgent beep through the South Shore Hospital emergency room.
The alarm came as something of a surprise. The 46-year-old visual artist from Weymouth, who suffered from diabetes, congestive heart failure, and other serious health problems, had arrived at the nearby community hospital complaining of shortness of breath the previous afternoon. But by midnight, her vital signs were stable and she was resting peacefully.
Now, in the wee hours of Oct. 11, 2010, a new, more serious problem emerged. Four minutes after nurses responded to the oxygen alarm, Robertson had no pulse. The staff began pushing on her chest, racing to keep her alive.
The cause of Robertson’s crisis, it would later be learned, was a precipitous drop in her blood glucose — severe hypoglycemia. The deadly turn was the result of a medication error, lawyers for her family say, and that error can be traced in part to a major innovation in modern medical practice: electronic health records.
President Obama and Congress poured $30 billion in taxpayer subsidies into the push for digital medical records beginning in 2009, with only a few strings attached and no safety oversight of the vendors who sell the systems.
The move was touted as a way to improve patient care and help rein in medical costs. Five years later, the explosion in the use of the electronic records has created the potential for efficiencies and safety benefits but also new risks for patients, the scope of which still is not fully understood.
Academics, policy gurus, health care leaders, and patient safety advocates generally agree that the American medical system has long needed to abandon its old paper charts and catch up with the rest of the digital age. For instance, wider use of bar-coding in hospitals, matching patient wristbands with the drugs they are given, is creating a safer environment, specialists say.
But the scramble by doctors and hospitals to cash in on the incentives has thrust complex, balky, unwieldy, and error-prone computer systems into highly sensitive clinical settings at a record pace. From 2008 to 2013, the percent of US doctor’s offices with electronic health records rose from 17 to 48 percent. Growth in hospitals was even more dramatic, from 13 to 70 percent.
The scope and pace of change has been far beyond the capacity of medical institutions and government regulators to track, many officials and health care safety advocates agree.
Yet, facing staunch resistance to any regulation by the politically influential health records industry, the Obama administration has opted against mandatory reporting that would enable officials to track unsafe conditions, injuries, and deaths relating to these systems — to draw lessons, that is, from the tragedies of patients such as Theresa Robertson.
In her case, nurses gave her an excessive amount of insulin with three injections, over about two hours, that sent her glucose levels plummeting, her family alleges in a lawsuit.
Read the rest of the story HERE.

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