What happens if your medical records are incomplete?

Your entire medical journey lives in digital health records, but how do you know if those records are wrong, incomplete or missing important information? That’s the focus of research done by Varadraj Gurupur, associate professor in UCF’s School of Global Health Management and Informatics.

His latest project created an algorithm that can predict and measure the incompleteness of electronic health records — in everything from your lab results to disease diagnoses, medical history to prescription records.

Missing information in the electronic health records (EHR) that hospitals and doctor’s offices keep is like a leaking pipe, he says. If you don’t know where the leak is, you can’t fix it, and soon the house can flood. The same dangers can happen in healthcare. A recent study by Gurupur revealed that a critical percent of digital health records contained missing information.

His algorithm uses mathematics and computer science to answer, “Where is the water leaking?” he says. The analysis performed by Gurupur and his team found that the level of incompleteness per year varies and there is not a pattern of where missing data happens. His algorithm helps identify attributes that have a higher tendency to be incomplete — the areas of the water pipe that are more vulnerable and can break more frequently.

His previous studies have documented that the biggest reasons for missing health information are communication and education. Communication between patients and their providers isn’t always clear — especially if the patient is interacting with a healthcare professional who does not speak their native language. Cultural barriers may keep patients from sharing important information with their providers. Digital technology also creates its own challenges. Providers may not fill out electronic records until day’s end — and forget what the patient said or not have it accurately in their notes. Hospitals and clinics switch electronic health record systems, requiring extensive new retraining which results in a learning curve for providers. Some healthcare workers, especially those who did not grow up with technology, may not be adept at using EHRs.

“Missing health information can sometimes be as simple as a person who isn’t sure what button to push in the new system,” Gurupur says.

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