Another side effect of EHRs that don't talk: Conflicting end-of-life directives

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End-of-life care plans give patients the final word on the type of care they want to receive should their health take a turn for the worse. But what happens when physicians face technological limitations that prevent them from knowing a patient's wishes?

The EHR interoperability discussion focuses on a number of important use cases where sharing data in a meaningful way can be the difference between life or death, but advance directives about end-of-life care were often mishandled in the days of pen-and-paper records, too, according to a USA Today column.

Unless patients fill out advance directives and carry copies with them, a provider may very well be unable to access their preferences electronically.

"If they're not able to access the advance directive quickly and easily, they're honestly likely not to use it," Torrie Fields, senior program manager for palliative care at Blue Shield of California, told USA Today. "They'll end up erring on the side of the most treatment possible."

Although no research has been done to determine just how often cases like that occur, they may be more common than many patients think. Some major EHR vendors have explicitly announced intentions to prioritize enabling data exchange for end-of-life care and advance directives. Certain states have created databases accessible to physicians where patients can upload and store their advance directives in password-protected networks. But these solutions still are not fool-proof, as lack of national legislation can lead to complications for those receiving treatment across state lines.

Read the full article here.

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