Is Technophobia Compromising Veteran Health Care?

Imagine suffering an injury that necessitates a trip to the emergency room of your local hospital. After a painfully long delay, the doctor who finally treats you determines that you need to undergo a procedure, which would be made considerably easier and more efficient by the use of readily available technology. However, even though this technology is at the doctor’s disposal and would benefit your care, he opts not to use it, because it’s in a locked cabinet that he hasn’t learned to access and, anyway, he’s more comfortable simply using whatever is at hand. Would you stand for such care (or the lack thereof)? No? Well, would it shock you to learn that many injured soldiers are returning home to receive such negligent care? The New York Times has the story:

Disuse of System Is Cited in Gaps in Soldiers’ Care

Lapses in using a digital medical record system for tracking wounded soldiers have led to medical mistakes and delays in care, and have kept thousands of injured troops from getting benefits, according to former defense and military medical officials.

The Defense Department’s inability to get all hospitals to use the system has routinely forced thousands of wounded soldiers to endure long waits for treatment, the officials said, and exposed others to needless testing.

Several department officials said the problem may have played a role in the suicide of a soldier last year after he was taken to Fort Lewis in Washington State from Iraq. His intentions to kill himself were clearly documented in his digital medical record from overseas, but doctors at Fort Lewis did not consult the file and released him, according to department records and defense officials.

“The D.O.D.’s failure to share data and track patient records is truly a matter of life and death,� Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said in a statement. “This isn’t an isolated case, but a system-wide failure.�

The system was designed to make seamless the transition of soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as they moved to hospitals stateside. But only 13 of 70 military treatment centers in the United States use it even though it was mandated by the Pentagon more than two years ago, according to agency documents. [full text]

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2 responses

  1. this is heartbreaking. it’s a lack of leadership from the top down. there’s no way of knowing how many people die because their medical information is not available where it’s needed. difficulty accessing information is a daily frustration of health care work. in the 21st century we are still sqinting at bad handwriting on a lousy photocopy and hoping we don’t miss anything important. patients beware–get it in writing from your doctors and save all your records!

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