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Hospitals and clinics must maintain accurate and readily accessible medical records to ensure proper treatment of patients. Prescription and diagnosis mistakes caused by substandard record keeping are an all-too-common form of medical malpractice, and facilities that confuse patient records or make other mistakes deserve to be held accountable when those errors cause harm or lead to a wrongful death.

Health care information technology systems have developed rapidly in recent decades not only to improve performance and enhance safety, but also to reduce the costs of delivering care. A recent study released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) set out to determine the extent of patient safety and medical malpractice risks associated with electronic medical record keeping.

The report, "Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care," found inconsistent results. For instance, some health IT systems that use computerized prescribing mechanisms and bar-coding have improved medication safety performance.

On the other hand, poorly designed IT systems can introduce new types of risks that further complicate care by increasing dosage errors, failures to detect illnesses and treatment delays. In conclusion, the committee called for application of a systems approach to minimizing patient safety risks associated with electronic medical records, and suggested that such efforts could be spearheaded by FDA regulations and oversight.

Proof that record-keeping errors led to an adverse health event is a good example of the complex factual issues that medical malpractice lawyers must confront to help clients pursue compensation. By pointing out areas that need improvement and holding hospitals and doctors accountable for errors, patient safety advocates and medical negligence attorneys provide incentives for building safer health care systems.