Badly designed electronic records can be hazardous to your health

It isn’t easy to ruffle my friend of 30 years, one of the best gastroenterologists in Boston, a town known for top-notch medicine. But he was ruffled when he told the story of giving a patient anesthesia and performing a medically unnecessary procedure—only he hadn’t known it was unnecessary because the patient’s electronic health record, or EHR, didn’t function as promised.

If you’ve heard of EHRs, you know that many doctors consider them a pain in the neck. Not much is said, however, about the harm EHRs can cause to patients. There’s a reason for that: Gag clauses prevent EHR users from talking publicly about their specific problems.

At its core, the electronic health record is a great idea. The technology is intended to replace paper records in the interest of efficiency, quality and safety. For millennia, physicians have written notes to record what we see, think and do in the care of our patients. Those notes began to develop into primitive electronic medical records as early as the 1970s, but things changed dramatically during the Great Recession.

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