Hospitals are supposed to be a safe place. Unfortunately we do hear about mistakes that severely disable patients or even cost them their lives. There are probably many reasons why this happens, but in my experience I witnessed how patient information is not easily retrieved or shared—and therefore poorly analyzed—among a healthcare team. All of us depend on the medical community’s expertise as well as proper management of our personal medical data.
As I found this to be quite disturbing, I took it upon myself to gently ask one of the nurses about the management of their patient data. Here is what I discovered:
No Universal Medical Data Source
In the area I live in there are several different medical centers. Patients choose doctors who are affiliated with the same center for convenience and insurance purposes. But in some cases, patients choose doctors through recommendations and expertise in specific specialties. In this situation, it is impossible for doctors to share information about a patient. What about people who move across state lines? There health history often doesn't follow them.
Data Tools and Policies Always in Flux
Hospitals do have initiatives to improve patient care. Like most businesses, they want to keep their customers happy. One of these initiatives is to provide better service by making data entry quicker for the staff so that they can spend more time caring for you. However, frequent changes to the system, while perhaps improvements, are made with little or no notice or training. Any change to tools and policies requires re-training to ensure data quality.
Everyone Wants to Go Green
Before too long paper forms will go the way of the dinosaur. The goal is to ensure that all data is captured ONCE. This is great news for “data-quality!” Or is it? Today doctors have assistants who do nothing but take recorded and written documents and enter them into a medical record system. For reasons such as quality, privacy and staff reduction, they will be required to enter this data themselves. Unfortunately, the doctors are insulted and worried about taking over such a time-consuming task. Let’s hope that the quality does not suffer for the patient as well as the data.
The improvement of data availability, tools and policy consistency and data quality are critical in healthcare. As a patient we cannot always advocate for ourselves and communicate medical histories or even our own needs. We are dependent on the expertise and knowledge of our care-giver and hope that improved records will provide the much needed information to make better decisions. If our past information is not available we may be putting our lives at risk.