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Electronic medical records temporarily lost from data outage

Any number of things could go wrong at a hospital or medical office when facilities fail to take all necessary precautions to protect patients. Fayetteville patients might be more concerned about suffering serious injuries during a surgical operation or not being treated in time for cancer due to a missed diagnosis. But patients are also at risk of being harmed when medical facilities do not have proper procedures in place to address other serious issues such as security and medical data storage.

Technology certainly can make accessing information easier and help medical offices become a more environmentally friendly place. But when technological problems happen, computers and electronic files may be compromised. If doctors cannot access important patient data when necessary, doctors may not be able to provide the type of care and treatment a patient may need. This could result in dangerous medical errors.

Last month, a company that supplies electronic medical records to thousands of facilities in the U.S. discovered just how serious a data storage outage can be. Cerner Corp. lost access to a large number of electronic medical records due to the incident, which prevented doctors from being able to view patient records. Cerner Corp. called the problem a "human error."

Although facilities are required to have certain procedures in place that staff can follow when they do lose access to electronic medical records, the incident is bringing to light the risks all medical facilities take when converting from a paper records system to an electronic system.

Cerner Corp. claims the records are now safe because of back-up plans when systems temporarily fail. But when the system did fail, doctors and other medical professionals temporarily lost access to important patient data. More than 9,000 hospitals and facilities across the U.S. use Cerner Corp.

A doctor in Florida who was affected by the outage said the system had gone out for about five hours while he was monitoring women going into labor. He said he is now wondering whether the electronic systems are indeed better than the old handwriting system.

Cerner Corp. has already issued a statement saying it will re-evaluate training and current protocols, and that the company plans to add further ways to safeguard patient records in the event of another data outage.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Patient data outage exposes risks of electronic medical records," Chad Terhune, August 3, 2012

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