How to Protect Yourself from Medical Records Glitches

Technical problems are everywhere, but here's how to stay safe.

doctor and patient on computer

Updated on January 31, 2023.

As more healthcare providers (HCPs) use electronic health records (EHRs), the dream is that it'll be easier for everyone to work together to share this vital information—from the emergency room to your HCP’s office to the pharmacy and billing office. The goal is to connect your entire healthcare team, all working in your best interest, to make sure you're getting the care you need. Simply put, EHRs are the way of the future.

But there are potential downsides to EHRs, too. Like any new technology, they can lead to confusion, glitches, and errors. Even EHR systems that have been in place for many years can be subject to poorly designed workflows, usability issues, and documentation errors, according to a 2021 study in JMIR Medical Informatics. And one survey of nearly 30,000 patients published in 2020 in JAMA Network Open found that 20 percent of respondents discovered an error in their EHR, with 40 percent feeling the error was serious.

The root of the EHR problem

In the JMIR study, researchers found that communications between different health records programs were the most common issue, accounting for 22.5 percent of patient safety incident reports. Usability issues and documentation errors were closely related, accounting for 17.1 percent and 14.1 percent of incident reports, respectively.

The JAMA Open Network study researchers noted that while EHR errors are very common, there is no consistent system in place to check the accuracy of EHR notes. Common errors include medications or missing information, which can lead to medication dosing errors, incorrect or delayed diagnoses, or improper treatment. 
 
In a 2022 study by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), researchers examined an EHR system within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S., that went live in October 2020. The GAO found problems with the quality of data transferred into the new system and with system functionality for some users. Errors included compromised patient safety due to inaccurate allergy, medication, and immunization data. The study highlighted the fact that even brand new or upgraded systems may still create glitches. 

So, what's the solution? 

The JAMA study findings suggest that patients should review their EHRs and report any perceived errors to their HCP. Ask your HCP to review these notes with you regularly to ensure your record is updated.

Researchers from the VA study urge healthcare groups to keep the potential downsides of EHRs in mind at all times and to manage them with strong internal systems designed to prevent, identify, and correct safety issues. Their study also shows that even long-standing EHR systems need ongoing testing and error-checking to be sure they're working and being used correctly by staff. 

While hospitals and healthcare facilities already take many steps to protect patients, safety will always be critical when it comes to new technologies.

Five ways to protect yourself

Errors sometimes happen but being a proactive patient can help you limit them. Here are five ways to reduce your risk of EHR-related errors and protect your health.

Understand your condition. Knowing as much as possible about your treatment plan—for example, what your medications are, how much to take and when, and what to avoid—can help you recognize errors on your own at the pharmacy or during another step in your care.

Ask questions and raise concerns. If something doesn't sound right, or if you simply aren't on the same page with your HCP, speak up. This is especially true when your HCP is asking you to sign a consent form for a procedure or treatment.

Request access to your records. Some offices and labs will give people secure access to their records online. You can also request a hard copy, but the office might charge you a small fee.

Keep a current, complete personal health record—and understand how a personal health record is different from your medical record. 

Update everyone. Don't assume that your HCPs have all the information they need. Be sure to tell your primary care provider about any changes in medications or your overall health since your last visit, so they can see the entire picture of how you're doing and better coordinate your care.

Article sources open article sources

Palojoki S, Saranto K, et al. Classification of Electronic Health Record-Related Patient Safety Incidents: Development and Validation Study. JMIR Med Inform. 2021;9(8):e30470.
Bell SK, Delbanco T, Elmore JG, et al. Frequency and Types of Patient-Reported Errors in Electronic Health Record Ambulatory Care Notes. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(6):e205867. 
U. S. Government Accountability Office. Electronic Health Records: VA Needs to Address Data Management Challenges for New System. Page published February 1, 2022.

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