20% of seriously ill patients incorrectly listed as alive in EHRs

Approximately 20% of individuals listed as alive with a severe illness in their medical records were, in reality, deceased, according to findings published Dec. 4 in JAMA Internal Medicine

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles monitored 11,698 seriously ill patients 18 and older across 41 UCLA Health clinics for a period of two years or until November 2022. The researchers conducted a comparison between individuals recorded as alive in the EHRs and the California Department of Public Health Public Use Death File. 

Patient interactions — encompassing letters, notes, orders, portal messages, telephone outreach, appointments and refills that occurred postmortem — were examined until Dec. 19, 2022, according to a Dec. 4 news release from UCLA Health.

Of the tracked patients, 2,920 were accurately marked as deceased in their health records. However, an additional 676 individuals, believed to be alive according to their records, were in fact deceased, according to the California data.

Of those found to be deceased, 541 had an encounter or appointment still pending.

According to the researchers, this discrepancy resulted in avoidable interactions, including appointment reminders and prescription refills, placing strain on resources and consuming valuable time for healthcare workers.

Researchers also found that health organizations face the challenge of an inaccessible real-time death database maintained by the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Services. The absence of comprehensive death data, according to the researchers, stems from California law, which restricts access to this information solely for "law enforcement or fraud prevention" purposes, the release said.

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