Electronic medical records seem to be the current trend in health care, and you’ll find many physicians, allied health professionals, pharmacists and hospitals using some form of electronic recording of patient data. Despite the many advantages of a more uniform approach to documenting medical care and coordinating care when patients see several specialists, there are some disadvantages to electronic medical records. As patients more regularly experience doctor’s visits with electronic health records (EHRs) they may notice some of the disadvantages immediately. Other problems occur “behind the scenes,” outside of a patient’s surveillance.
One of the chief disadvantages to electronic medical records is that start up costs are enormous. Not only must you buy equipment to record and store patient charts (much more expensive than paper and file cabinets), but efforts must be taken to convert all charts to electronic form. Patients may be in the transitional state, where old records haven’t yet been converted and doctors don’t always know this. Further, training on electronic medical records software adds additional expense in paying people to take training, and in paying trainers to teach practitioners.
Despite training, most people creating medical records are now nurses, and often doctors. Unfamiliarity with technology, especially when an EHR program is implemented can significantly detract from patient time as the doctor or nurse struggles with unfamiliar equipment. Many patients report visits with doctors where the doctor has to divert focus to figuring out how to enter things electronically and thus has less time for the patient. Medical care in already crowded offices may be delayed when technology is not reliable. A frozen computer could steal minutes or more from patient care for that day. It’s also still easy to miss recording relevant details, or to type in incorrect information.
Along with reduction in doctor/patient time, some people find that electronic medical records and their accompanying systems have depersonalized doctor visits or needed calls to a doctor’s office. Protocol of a system may require, for instance, any patient questions to be emailed to a doctor, even if a receptionist takes them and even if the doctor passes that receptionist multiple times a day. This can increase wait time for callbacks, or for doctor emails, especially if emails are not checked regularly.
Additionally there is not one electronic medical records system. There are many. Streamlining patient care can only be achieved when a single system is used, since two or more systems may not work together. If the hospital uses a different EHR system than your primary care physician, health records may not be available to the hospital, or vice versa from hospital to the physician. Electronic medical records may reduce office paperwork, but they may not coordinate care between several treating physicians, pharmacies, and allied health workers as they promise to do when different systems are used by each group.
Lastly, some are concerned about the security of their medical records, which should be completely confidential. Hackers may ultimately be able to penetrate EHRs despite security precautions, and they may then release confidential information to others. This has some patients worried about how safe and confidential their electronic medical records really are.