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President Obama has made electronic medical records central to US health care reform, promising $1.2 billion of assistance to doctors and hospitals in switching from paper to electronic records.

(Can you imagine any other major business succeeding today without an electronic record-keeping system? It’s really, really ridiculous that the e-switch hasn’t happened yet in most of this country’s hospitals and doctors’ offices.)

One major reason to switch to electronic records is to help doctors keep track of test results in an effort to avoid medical errors. But study results released this week show that doctors sometimes ignore even electronic warnings concerning abnormal test results. Doctors in the study failed to follow up on almost eight percent of the e-alerts they received about an abnormal x-ray, mammogram, CT scan, MRI, and other imaging tests, even when the results demanded immediate medical attention. The conditions of nearly all of the patients whose results were ignored ended up getting worse as a result.

"Just the fact that you can use technology to deliver a piece of information from the radiologist to a doctor doesn’t mean it will be taken care of," said Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, whose study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"The electronic health record system is a huge improvement from previous paper-based systems, but it is not perfect," Singh said in a telephone interview. –kcrg

Electronic systems will allow doctors to share patients’ medical records, communicate information about proven treatments, and send test results reminders. Many Veterans Affairs medical centers (one of which was the subject of the study) have been using the systems for nearly a decade.

If neglecting to follow up on eight percent of abnormal test results is a "huge improvement" over the status quo, just how bad is the status quo?

If you have had an experience with an ignored abnormal test result or any other medical mistake, we want to hear the truth from you! Please post your story.

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