How Electronic Advance Directives Compare to Print Versions

May 2, 2016
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Electronic versions of your health care Advance Directives sounds like a more reliable way to store your documents, right? Unfortunately this is not always the case. Although having information stored online may seem more convenient and easily accessible than carrying around a paper copy, there are quite a few issues that make this method less reliable than it initially seems. One of the major problems is that doctor’s offices and emergency rooms often use different record systems, making it impossible for emergency room staff to access your Health Care Proxy or Living Will and other important information that the patient’s doctor recorded in their electronic file. Additionally, many individuals receive treatment from a variety of different sources such as hospitals, nursing homes, primary care physicians, and specialists, which makes it even more unlikely that they will encounter a unified system for storing electronic information. Many systems are also difficult to navigate because they do not have specific tabs or sections set aside for advance directives. This means that even if emergency room staff are able to access the patient’s records, it could be difficult for them to locate the information they are looking for. All of these flaws may result in a patient who specified their wishes ahead of time, receiving more treatment than they wanted as doctors will end up erring on the side of providing the most treatment possible when their advance directives cannot be accessed.

Actions are being taken to improve electronic systems and the storing of advance directives. There are several private companies that have created online storage capabilities however it may be best to have the actual health care providers have direct access within their own system. The developers of record systems are trying to make this information easier to find. Some systems are adding a tab that specifically indicates whether a patient has an advance directive on file. Similarly, some hospitals are also having their IT teams add tabs on their electronic record systems that also indicate if a patient has an advance directive. There is also legislation being pushed to ensure compatibility across different health records for advance directives. Additionally, certain states are addressing this issue by creating online databases that allow residents to upload and store their advance directives. Read more about the changes that are taking place to ensure that patients’ end-of-life plans are not lost in critical moments.

Currently, the best way to ensure that your wishes will be met is to utilize both electronic and print versions of your advance directives. Make sure your advance directives are easily accessible to a trusted family member or friend in the event that doctors are unable to access your electronic file.

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