I am encountering, in my legal work, electronic medical records
systems that either allow ex post facto note alterations by clinicians –
for example, after a catastrophe – and/or alteration of the apparent
date/time a note was entered. The alterations (e.g., a version history) or fake times don’t
appear on the printed records, and usually are not in the audit trails as well.
Some of the systems don’t even
bother saving prior versions of edited notes, AND/OR defense
attorneys make production of the the note version history and actual
times of entry very difficult to obtain,
AND/OR judges do not understand the issues and are not compelling the
release of note edits and time-of-entry data.
In the paper record world, the edits were inseparable from the records.
Cross outs, comments over carat marks, erasures, ink color differences,
spacing, etc. made them obvious. Attempts to conceal the edits in the
paper world, if attempted, would have constituted evidence tampering and
would have caused penalties and/or lost cases.
Electronic medical records are not entirely the patient’s friend when mishaps occur, because of the evidentiary mayhem they can create.
This is another unintended consequence of the rush to EHR’s in an unregulated industry. As those in the field of Social Informatics long observed (see, for example Kling, Crawford, Rosenbaum, Sawyer, Weisband (2000). “Learning from Social Informatics: Information and Communication Technologies in Human Contexts” here), adoption of any new ICT – Information & Communications technology – will always create winners and losers . (The citations refer to organizational “politics” as well as the governmental variety.)
In this case, unscrupulous clinicians and lawyers and the winners, and patients are the losers.
 “It is common for ICTs to have systematic political repercussions with winners and losers” (Danziger, Dutton, Kling & Kraemer, 1982; Markus 1981, 1983):
Danziger, James N., William H. Dutton, Rob Kling, and Kenneth L. Kraemer. Computers and Politics: High Technology in American Local Governments. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Markus, M. Lynne 1981. Implementation Politics: Top Managment Support and User Involvement. Systems, Objectives, Solutions 1(4) (November): 203-215.
Markus, M. L. 1983. Power, Politics, and MIS Implementation, Communications of the ACM, 26, 6 (June): 430-444.