CHICAGO (CBS) — Medical records are supposed to give doctors an accurate depiction of our health history, but CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas found mistakes are not uncommon, and getting your record fixed can be an uphill battle.

A white powder caused controversy for Bianca Anderson, but not for the reason you might expect.

When Anderson submitted her disability benefits for her annual review, she got a call from an agent about a change to her medical records regarding illicit drug use.

“It was a shock to me,” Anderson said.

The problem is she’s never used cocaine before. Yet doctors at the pain clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago mistakenly added it to her record; an error she wants erased.

“It’s disheartening, because these records stay with you forever,” she said.

It’s unclear how the drug abuse made its way onto her record, but it turns out the electronic record system isn’t fool proof.

“Electronic health records are stunningly complex,” said Ross Koppel, a longtime electronic health records expert. “They’ve got thousands of cells of data where you can put in information, and the possibility of confusion in areas is very great.”

Koppel knows from personal experience.

“I’m professor of medicine at two universities, I’m a scholar of healthcare,” he said.

Yet, even his records are riddled with errors that he can’t remove.

“It’s a constant source of irritation to me, and I should be able to do it better than the average Joe, and I can’t,” he said.

So what can patients do to fix their records?

If you find a mistake, write a letter to your provider explaining the error. They then have 60 days to fix it or deny your claim.

For Anderson, after much back-and-forth with UIC, she said, “They sent me a document acknowledging that it was a mistake.”

But it’s still there, she added.

For UIC, amending the record meant crossing out the word cocaine. In most cases, the horizontal line is sufficient, but Anderson wants it completely removed.

She said, when other providers look at her record, the stigma behind drug abuse creates problems.

“If I needed specific treatment, I’m going to be denied as far as pain control, because they’re going to look at the records and say, ‘This person has a problem, we can’t give it to her,’” she said.

Anderson worries she will pay the price for someone else’s mistake.

“Their mistakes are not going to affect them, they’re going to affect you, long-term,” she said.

UIC said its system does not allow for information to be erased. This is the full statement from UI Health:

“We fully support a patient’s right to review and request updates or corrections to their electronic health record. It is our policy to resolve written requests for corrections or updates to patients’ health records within 60 days of receipt by our Privacy Office. Once a request is received, the Privacy Office will work directly with care providers to review the request and amend the health record if needed. If a mistake was made and a correction is needed, it is our policy to update the health record via an amendment. Our system does not allow information in the electronic health record to be erased.”

 

Koppel said in the past couple of months, there has been a push for unique patient ID numbers to prevent mistakes like this from happening.

Tim McNicholas