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International report

UK medical records have high error rate, doctors say

Physicians reviewing records collected by the national I.T. program in Birmingham, U.K., have found that 10 percent of the local electronic charts contained out-of-date information, including errors about medications taken by patients or drugs to which they are allergic.

These mistakes could put patients at risk – for example, if doctors used the information in an emergency and administered drugs to which the patient had an allergy.

So far, around two million electronic patient records across England have been uploaded to the central database, and if the error rate was the same nationwide, which doctors say is not unreasonable to presume, then around 200,000 people could be at risk from inaccurate information stored about them.

GP leaders in Birmingham said the national organization running the system, Connecting for Health, knows about the error rate and has not taken action.

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham Local Medical Committee, which represents local doctors, told Pulse magazine: “The fact that in Birmingham 80,000 patients have had their records uploaded, the majority without their consent, and one in ten have been put at risk from inaccurate data, shows we believe that the uploading of the Summary Care Record has to be stopped immediately because they are not safe.”

The Summary Care Record has proved controversial after it was highlighted that many people who were sent information saying their records were about to be uploaded had not recalled receiving the letter, meaning they had not given proper consent.

Also the process of opting out of the system has been criticized as difficult. Dr Morley added that he had received a letter from Connecting for Health saying that the errors were not thought to be a major problem as the Summary Care Record is not designed to be relied upon by doctors.

He said: “We believe that either this is a major risk to patient safety, or, if they are not to be relied upon, it shows that they have been wrong to spend all these millions developing a system in the first place.”

It is thought that the errors might have occurred as NHS staff were uploading out-of-date records and did not have the necessary ‘smartcards’ needed to access the latest records.

The coalition government has announced a review of the Summary Care Record but uploading of details is ongoing in the meantime.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are fully committed to reviewing the information sent to patients about the Summary Care Record and the process by which they can opt out, as well as reviewing the content of the record.

“All new mailings of letters informing patients about the Summary Care Record have been paused while this review takes place. However, we believe the decision on whether to create new Summary Care Records must continue to be taken locally by GP practices and primary care trusts.”

The spokesman said smartcards must always be used to update medical records and as a safety feature to guard against unauthorised staff from accessing the information or updating it.

Using the smartcards synchronises the electronic record with the patient’s NHS record to prevent changes being made to the notes of a patient with the same name, for example.

The British Medical Association has called for the Summary Care Record system to be halted while problems are solved.

Posted July 29, 2010