Originally published: June 28, 2011
Last updated: June 28, 2011 - 4:55pm
A look at the safety risks associated with medicine's advance into the information age, a trend being pushed aggressively under health reform.
The federal government is aiding the shift with $23 billion in incentives to medical providers who buy electronic medical records or computerized systems that automate drug orders and other medical processes. The hope is that these technologies will enhance access to vast amounts of information tucked away in paper files and meaningfully improve medical care. Doctors should be able to see test results quickly and communicate more easily with each other, for example. And electronic safeguards can remind physicians about recommended medical practices or alert them to harmful interactions between medicines. Yet with these sizable potential benefits also come potential problems. Hospital computers may crash or software bugs jumble data, deleting information from computerized records or depositing it in the wrong place. Sometimes, computers spew forth a slew of disorganized data, and physicians can't quickly find critical information about patients. Meanwhile, different electronic systems used in hospitals may not be able to communicate, and the alerts built into these systems are often ignored because they are so frequent and often are not especially useful, physicians and other experts report.
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