Electronic medical records could reduce risk of medical errors from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers

With federal stimulus dollars and new regulations, patients from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers may be at less risk of South Florida medical malpractice as more streamlined, efficient, paperless offices help save money and lives.

Florida’s aging retirement population — coupled with the fact that many residents were treated for decades in their home state — make the modernization of the medical records system a huge issue for South Florida patients.

The Sun Sentinel reports that health care experts estimate the economic impact of maintaining a dated paper-driven record-keeping system is almost $78 billion annually.

According to the article, the excessive costs of a paper records is mainly due to repeated services, “shuffling” of patient files and lab reports, phone calls between health care providers and a failure to have potentially life-saving access to critical and current patient information.

Thanks to an $8.5 million federal grant the newly established non-profit group, the South Florida Regional Extension Center, hopes to help 1,500 of the 10,000 local doctors make the transition from paper to paperless by 2015.

But this isn’t just about the money. Medicine is about saving lives, and that is at the core of the electronic medical records push. The Sun Sentinel cites a case involving a 2001 Orlando Health hospital system patient, an 82-year-old woman who arrived at their ER unconscious after a car accident.

Having switched to an electronic record system just the day before, Orlando Health ER doctors were able to review her most current medical information in real-time before deciding on a course of treatment.

Without immediate access to the woman’s medical information about a recent surgery and blood-thinning medication, the president of the Florida Health Care Coalition in Orlando told the Sun Sentinel they “surely” would have killed the patient in trying to save her.

According to the 2006 National Practitioner Data Bank annual report, there have been 16,674 medical malpractice payment reports made against Florida physicians, and another 522 made against Florida nurses between 1990-2006

Malpractice can result from many causes, including the negligence of doctors or medical staff. But not having access to the medical information necessary to make the proper decisions is one danger that can and should be eliminated.