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So Sue Me...One More Hurdle for the EMR

November 24, 2008
by James Feldbaum
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At a dinner party this week I was asked what kind of consulting I did. The explanation that I helped hospitals with the adoption of the electronic medical record provoked a single question “what about security?”

Each morning I receive an automated news alert from Google. My search term is “electronic medical record.” Here are the headlines from yesterday and today:

It is no wonder that there is so much distrust of the electronic medical record. Admittedly we have our good press too, but it seems that our missteps get the biggest headlines. The guests at the dinner party were hard-pressed to enumerate the benefits of an EMR or PHR. We need better PR!

The new California law that takes effect January 1, 2009 will significantly increase fines not only for the illegal use of the medical record but also for unauthorized access of records. The law also opens the doors for patients to sue doctors when their records are accessed even if there is no damage. It is expected that other states will follow suit.

Ironically, a blog listed above describes a medical student’s exasperating attempts to get a copy of one of his procedure reports. It seems to take less effort for morbidly curious eyes to access the medical record then for the rightful owner of that record.

Patient acceptance of the electronic medical record will require better PR. Our President Elect mentioned the EMR only as a cost savings for insurers. There is little press or education available that promotes the clinical and quality benefits for our patients.

Physician adoption of electronic medical record has been slow for many reasons. Now, new laws may have created the greatest hurdle. Now, patients can sue their doctor for improper access to the medical record even if there is no harm done. While the paper chart was equally vulnerable, it did not leave a clear, time stamped and traceable footprint behind. An ambulatory EMR can now be considered a financial and legal risk for physicians already struggling with the decision whether to undertake the high cost and time-consuming implementation of the EMR.

Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too.

Lawrence Bixby

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