Hospital accused of altering health records to avoid culpability
by jerry on March 07, 2021
NBC News published an alarming article detailing patient accusations of a hospital misdiagnosing and then altering the patient's medical record to avoid guilt. If true, the allegations are quite concerning. From what has been pieced together, the hospital originally declared the patient to be free of cancer, but that diagnosis was apparently the result of a technician accidentally selecting the wrong value from a dropdown menu despite leaving a contradictory textual comment. When the patient eventually learned from a second opinion that she had cancer, she was diagnosed with stage 4 and advised that she might have less than a year to live. One might be skeptical of a single patient's accusations, and I was surprised to learn that a forensics firm worked on about 500 medical malpractice cases and found "significant alterations to the patient's record that favored the hospital in 85 percent of them."
Putting aside the shocking cover-up (if true), this case highlights that both the patient and the hospital might have been better off if the patient had full access to her medical records in this case. Many medical providers have been reluctant to fully share patient medical records, for fear of misinterpretation, additional questions, or perhaps mistakes that might be uncovered by patients. However, increasing reliance on software might make it easier for mistakes to slip by (whereas in older times, perhaps the referring doctor would have seen the textual comment). Electronic health records bring many benefits over paper records, but they are still vulnerable -- and perhaps especially so -- to bad input. Allowing patients to have full and easy access to their own medical records could be an important tool in catching mistakes early.
Additionally, watching hospitals complain about the cost and complexity of accessing the audit log is concerning. If the number of accusations of cover-ups rises significantly, the medical industry would ideally have an incentive to have an easier time to access and interpret the audit log rather than use it as a smokescreen to deny wrongdoing.