Promised E-Health Improvements Also Come With Shortcomings, Risks

Efforts to achieve greater efficiency and higher quality in health care through new health information technologies are not without new risks as well.

For instance, the Houston Chronicle reports that "Even when notified by electronic e-mail alerts, doctors sometimes ignore test results that show the patient might have a serious condition, according to a Houston study. The study, conducted at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and its clinics, found doctors failed to follow up within a month on nearly 8 percent of such alerts. The alerts involved abnormal results, some later diagnosed as cancer, on imaging tests such as MRIs and X-rays"  (Ackerman, 9/29).

The lead researcher, Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Baylor College of Medicine, "said the findings suggest that while helpful, electronic medical records do not eliminate the problem of missed test results, and other strategies need to be used to ensure patients get prompt care -- perhaps rules that clear up any ambiguity over who is responsible for following up," Reuters reports. The study appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Steenhuysen, 9/28).

Meanwhile, Tennessee doctors have been accidentally submitting medical claims to the wrong recipients using a somewhat older electronic technology, the Nashville Tennessean reports. "The Tennessee Department of Human Services said it accidentally sent the wrong fax number to 100 medical providers across the state, leading them to erroneously send sensitive patient information to an Indiana businessman." 

The paper reports "it was a new caseworker in the Disability Determination Section, under DHS, who sent a cover sheet with the wrong fax number to medical providers, ... the state can't change the fax number because it belongs to the Social Security Administration, which handles the disability checks ... changing the fax number would affect thousands of people, state officials said." The state sent an e-mail blast to 29,000 medical providers with the correct toll-free fax information on Monday (Echegaray, 9/29).

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