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Increased attention has recently been focused on health record systems as a result of accreditation programs, a growing emphasis on patient safety, and the increase in lawsuits involving allegations of malpractice. Health-care professionals frequently express dissatisfaction with the health record systems and complain that the data included are neither informative nor useful for clinical decision making. This article reviews the main objectives of a hospital health record system, with emphasis on its roles in communication and exchange among clinicians, patient safety, and continuity of care, and asks whether current systems have responded to the recent changes in the Italian health-care system.
If health records are to meet the expectations of all health professionals, the overall information need must be carefully analyzed, a common data set must be created, and essential specialist contributions must be defined. Working with health-care professionals, the hospital management should define how clinical information is to be displayed and organized, identify a functionally optimal layout, define the characteristics of ongoing patient assessment in terms of who will be responsible for these activities and how often they will be performed. Internet technology can facilitate data retrieval and meet the general requirements of a paper-based health record system, but it must also ensure focus on clinical information, business continuity, integrity, security, and privacy.
The current health records system needs to be thoroughly revised to increase its accessibility, streamline the work of health-care professionals who consult it, and render it more useful for clinical decision making—a challenging task that will require the active involvement of the many professional classes involved.