There are some surprising disadvantages of medical records that you probably haven’t ever thought about before. Doctors and hospitals are facing these challenges head-on by putting technology to work for them. Here is what you need to know about how electronic medical records are helping patients get better care and the hurdles that still need to be cleared.

Disadvantages of Medical Records

Most doctor’s offices and hospitals are moving away from keeping manual medical records. Computers have changed the way we store and share information. Patient information is no different. Old-fashioned handwritten medical records have several distinct disadvantages.

1. Costs

Among the disadvantages of medical records is the costs associated with them, some of which never cross the mind of the average patient. Costs associated with the supplies needed required for manual records, such as paper and ink. There are also costs associated with storing records, which take up a good deal of space and must be kept dry. In addition to these costs, staff must copy, retrieve, or otherwise handle the records require a salary.

2. Lost productivity

People make mistakes. This is just a fact of life. But when dealing with manual medical records, mistakes like misplacing files mean a loss of productivity. Sorting data in handwritten medical records is impossible, that means obligate manual reviews which is a time-consuming undertaking. There is also the time that staff must take to find, copy, and deliver medical records when they are needed. These mistakes also have a direct impact on the patient because medical errors become all too easy when doctors don’t have all the information they need when they need it.

3. Accessibility

Another disadvantage of medical records kept on paper is that they are not readily accessible. A patient’s chart can only be used by one physician at one location unless a duplicate copy of the medical record is made and delivered.

4. Quality

Paper is not a particularly durable substance. For this reason, manual medical records tend to be fairly fragile. It is all too easy to damage a patient’s chart. Paper tears with very little effort and a spilled cup of coffee can be downright disastrous. Even normal use can cause a patient’s chart to deteriorate over time.

There is also the quality of the person updating the chart that needs to be taken into consideration. Illegible handwriting by medical professionals is so common that it is a running joke. Plus, different offices may use different notation systems when it comes to abbreviations, format, etc.

5. Fragmentation

Charts that are fragmented are also one of the disadvantages of medical records that are handwritten. Many patients have multiple health issues that cause them to see a variety of different medical professionals. Each doctor updates only one chart when they see a patient and information sharing is far from ideal between hospitals. The result is that records at various offices and facilities often end up being incomplete.

Advantages of Electronic Health Records

In an effort to alleviate the disadvantages of medical records kept the old-fashioned way, doctors and hospitals have turned to electronic medical records (EMR). Electronic medical records are quickly becoming the norm and they have revolutionized modern health care in a number of ways. Here are the most important benefits of EMRs.

1. Accessibility

Electronic medical records allow doctors and hospitals to access a patient’s chart at any time with the touch of a button. Medical professionals are able to store and exchange information instantaneously. This is especially important when multiple specialists must coordinate care for patients with complicated conditions or when emergency situations arise. A patient’s EMR contains all their diagnoses, progress notes, test results, and past treatments, which doctors the world over have immediate access to.

2. Real-time records

One of the disadvantages of medical records which are kept in the traditional way is that they cannot be viewed in real-time. Electronic medical records solve this problem. Lab results are available to a patient’s entire medical team as soon as completed. Multiple doctors can view the records at the same time and they can see as soon as another doctor updates the patient’s electronic chart.

3. Security

Because electronic medical records are kept in a protected database, they are much more secure than paper medical records. Misfiling becomes a thing of the past. They will never end up behind a filing cabinet, lost. Spilled coffee is not their mortal enemy. Electronic medical records are even safe from unforeseen disasters such as a floods or fires.

4. Safety

Since electronic medical records are available in real-time and contain all of a patient’s pertinent information, there is an added level of safety when compared to traditional records. Electronic medical records help prevent dangerous drug interactions from prescribed medications that might otherwise be overlooked until too late. Allergies to medications can also be caught in time to prevent a serious reaction.

Electronic Health Records Pros and Cons

Everything in life has a good side and a bad side. Electronic medical records are no exception to this rule. Just like everything else, there are a variety of EMR pros and cons.

EMR Pros

Here are the advantages of electronic medical records:

  • Better quality of care
  • Better patient safety
  • Cost savings
  • Fewer workplace inefficiencies
  • Increased storage capabilities
  • Records are accessible to many providers at various locations at the same time
  • Information retrieval is nearly instantaneous
  • Records updated in real-time
  • Records can provide medical alerts and reminders automatically
  • Less charting time
  • Fewer charting errors

EMR Cons

Despite all the pros of electronic medical records, they are not problem free. Still, several disadvantages of medical records kept in electronic databases exist. Here are the cons of electronic medical records:

  • High startup costs
  • Substantial learning curve
  • Confidentiality issues
  • Security issues
  • Terminology, system architecture, and indexing not yet standardized

HI TECH Healthcare Act

In 2009 the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This law “addresses the privacy and security concerns associated with the electronic transmission of health information.” The HITECH Act established the following:

  • Four categories of violations that reflect increasing levels of culpability;
  • Four corresponding tiers of penalty amounts that significantly increase the minimum penalty amount for each violation; and
  • A maximum penalty amount of $1.5 million for all violations of an identical provision.

The HITECH Act also amended the previous laws that were already on the books by:

  • Striking the previous bar on the imposition of penalties if the covered entity did not know and with the exercise of reasonable diligence would not have known of the violation (such violations are now punishable under the lowest tier of penalties); and
  • Providing a prohibition on imposing penalties for any violation that  corrected within a 30-day time period; as long as the violation was not due to willful neglect.

EMR: The New Normal

Electronic medical records have become the new normal for patient charts. Increasing the safety and real-time access by doctors and patients alike. Although there are some disadvantages to medical records kept online, the pros seem to far outweigh the cons.


Featured image CC by SA 2.0, by wp paarz, via Flickr

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