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California Healthcare Data Gap: Deceased Patients Incorrectly Listed as Alive in Electronic Health Records

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Ayanna Amadi
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California Healthcare Data Gap: Deceased Patients Incorrectly Listed as Alive in Electronic Health Records

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A recent study highlights a significant discrepancy in California’s medical records, with hundreds of deceased patients incorrectly listed as alive in electronic health records (EHRs). This systemic issue has led to unnecessary outreach efforts, including preventive care reminders and appointment notifications, and places a strain on valuable healthcare resources. Further, this problem has potential negative impacts on the families of the deceased patients.

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Unveiling the Healthcare Data Gap

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed data from 11,698 seriously ill adult patients across UCLA health clinics over a span of two years. Shockingly, the research found that approximately 20% of these patients, who were listed as alive in medical records, were in fact deceased. Out of these, 676 deceased patients were incorrectly listed as alive, leading to hundreds of wasteful healthcare interactions.

Such interactions not only strain healthcare resources and workers’ time, but also create inefficiencies in patient management, billing, and advanced illness interventions. The unnecessary outreach efforts include appointment reminders, prescription refills, and other communication about unneeded services, all of which can be avoided with accurate record keeping.

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Root Cause: Restrictive State Law

The discrepancy in death data is largely attributed to a California state law that limits access to comprehensive death data. Currently, full death data is available only for the purposes of law enforcement or fraud prevention services. Healthcare institutions, unfortunately, do not have access to this crucial information, leading to significant data gaps and inefficient health system management.

Implications and Potential Solutions

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In addition to causing unnecessary strain on resources, the incorrect listing of deceased patients as alive can also have negative emotional impacts on the families of the deceased, who continue to receive healthcare notifications and reminders.

Neil Wenger, the lead author of the study, emphasizes the importance of addressing this issue. By raising awareness about the problem, healthcare stakeholders can advocate for changes in state law to grant healthcare institutions access to comprehensive death data. Such changes could significantly improve health system efficiency, save valuable resources, and avoid causing undue distress to families.

As we move towards a more digital and interconnected healthcare system, the accuracy and completeness of data in EHRs become increasingly important. It is clear that a collective effort from healthcare providers, lawmakers, and other stakeholders is required to resolve this issue and ensure optimal patient care and resource management.

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