Morgan Gleason is a 20-year-old living with Juvenile Dermatomyositis. It’s a rare autoimmune condition causing weak muscles and rashes in addition to other symptoms. As a result of her diagnosis, Morgan has seen many different doctors in her lifetime. To help make things easier for herself, she always asks for a copy of her medical records so she can keep all of her data straight.
Two years ago she had an appointment at a women’s clinic. Like usual, after the appointment she requested a copy of her records. But what she read this time shocked her. The report stated that she had two children, one of which died soon after birth. If the dates of each pregnancy were correct, Morgan would have been 13 years old when she had her first child.
But Morgan has never been pregnant.
She’d seen an error before in her records- a diagnosis of diabetes that she didn’t have. But this mistake was much more shocking for her.
A rare fluke right? A strange, uncommon error? Wrong. Unfortunately, mistakes in medical records are quite common.
The statistics are actually shocking.
Errors in medical records
It’s estimated that 70% of medical records have some piece of incorrect data.
In most cases, mistakes are fairly harmless. For instance, an injury is documented as occurring a day before it actually did. But other errors can be fatal.
250,000 people die in the U.S each year due to medical errors, according to Johns Hopkins. That makes medical mistakes the third-leading cause of death (the first two being heart disease and then cancer). Some studies estimate closer to 400,000 deaths due to this cause.
Human errors are inevitable, but theses statistics prove something needs to change.
Not only are errors unfortunately common, they often go undetected. Even when they are caught, its frequently difficult to correct them. Morgan had to file formal documentation to get her “pregnancies” removed from her record. Before filing, she first tried calling the office but she was simply told she must be wrong.
Ultimately, doctor’s don’t like to be sued and not all patient’s have proved trustworthy.
But legitimate mistakes need to be corrected. It’s a matter of safety- and in some cases, life or death. In the growing technological age, with less human eyes on each record, these mistakes are becoming even more unsettling.
Why it happens and what you can do about it
Why is this so common? Because doctor’s are human. That said, there are institutional changes which can minimize the risk of human error. For instance, in the UK, patients are given an identifying number which is attached to their record. That’s not the case in the U.S., which can be confusing for patients who have more common names. To minimize errors related to this, some doctors in the U.S. clip a picture of the patient to their record to ensure they’re talking to the right individual.
Unfortunately, as a patient you can’t control the mistakes. But you can keep a watchful eye over your records. Don’t be afraid to request a copy after each appointment.
You can read Morgan’s full story and more about this issue here.