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Last Thursday, Secure Computing Magazine reported that an executive at Australia’s Canberra Hospital admitted to altering medical records of patients seen in the emergency department. While the manipulation of patients’ medical records is a serious issue in itself, people are questioning the motive.

The executive reportedly told PricewaterhouseCoopers investigators that it boiled down to job security. "The only thing that worked to achieve benchmark targets was to alter the data," he said.

Since late 2010, emergency room data has been altered to make wait times and treatments appear shorter than they actually were.

According to Secure Computing Magazine, computer security was lax in that staff:

  • used generic login names like “doctor,” “nurse,” and “clerk”
  • never changed passwords
  • set password expiration dates for “999 days”
  • could manipulate patient data up to 72 hours after an appointment

PricewaterhouseCoopers said that nearly 11,700 performance records, or about six percent of all hospital records, were altered. Six percent may not seem like a lot, but it could mean a lot to one patient, as it did in the 1994 Ohio case Moskovitz v. Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

In that lawsuit, an Ohio physician failed to diagnose and treat a patient’s tumor despite noticing a lump near the Achilles tendon. Another doctor later diagnosed the cancer, but it was too late. The cancer metastasized and the patient died. That’s when the first physician altered the patient's medical records to conceal malpractice. He even added notes saying the patient refused a biopsy.

The Supreme Court of Ohio stated that the intentional alteration, falsification or destruction of medical records to avoid liability was sufficient to show malice, and the plaintiff was awarded punitive damages.

So, you may wonder, how were authorities tipped off to Canberra Hospital’s practices? (Which, by the way, also occurred while the executive was on leave, leading investigators to believe that more staff was involved.)

According to Secure Computing Magazine, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare noticed in April that “an unusually high number of patients were reported to have been seen at exactly 30 minutes or 60 minutes.” Additionally, “an unusually high number of people checked out of the Emergency Department precisely 240 minutes after their recorded arrival.”

What do you think? Was the hospital executive tampering with hospital records “due to ‘managerial pressure’ to improve publicly-reported performance statistics” as the article reports? Or do you think the executive was covering up possible malpractice claims? Does a story like this concern you about your own medical records?

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