President Obama has made the digitization of medical records a national priority. In theory, digitization allows doctors to more easily coordinate care and avoid duplication of tests. But as the American Medical Association (AMA) warned in 2010, electronic records can result in medical errors. The AMA suggests there should be more safeguards in place and that the medical profession implement electronic systems gradually.
Despite these concerns, the government has not changed its policy. Universal electronic medical records are one of the pillars of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The first regulation requiring electronic records took effect on October 1, 2012. At the same time, the government decided not to put electronic records under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA involvement would allow a federal agency to establish uniform practices for hospitals and other providers to follow, as they do in other areas.
This is disturbing enough already, but it gets worse. Under another provision in the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid may not have to pay for a patient's care if the condition was caused by a medical error. This is true even if the injury was the result of a hospital mistake while setting up its recordkeeping system or whether a hospital employee made a mistake entering data.
Overworked and exhausted employees are more likely to make mistakes. The requirement to learn a new system makes overwork and exhaustion more likely. If one's doctor or hospital recently switched to electronic medical records and a mistake was made, it is important for the patient to know the implications. One should be aware that the hospital itself, not just the individuals who made the mistake, might be liable if the error can be traced in any way to the hospital’s recordkeeping system.