County seeks electronic medical records in suspicious death cases News

The St Louis County Department of Public Health wants to conduct investigations and reach conclusions more efficiently for suspicious deaths. Being able to access medical records electronically can help speed up that process.

In an April 29 letter to the County Council, County Executive Sam Page asked its members to consider drafting legislation that would grant the health department access to Mercy Health’s MercyLink Electronic Medical Records System. Dr. Faisal Khan, acting health director, said the reason for the request is to help people get their loved ones’ death certificates in a more timely manner.

“This is consistent with electronic reporting of lab results, of prescriptions, of transfer of medical information,” Khan said. “There is nothing extraordinary about this.

“This is designed only to help the people of Louis County be able to obtain death certificates for their loved ones as quickly as possible. To help families in a time of need, in a time of great grief and distress.”

The health department is only interested in medical records connected to suspicious deaths, which are deaths that seem out of the ordinary, Khan said.

“We are not interested in access to all records,” Khan said. “There is no hospital system or medical clinic that would allow access to all records.”

Khan said there is a very strict protocol that governs access to patient records. There is no blanket access.

“All physicians are fully trained and are fully aware of the serious ramifications of accessing irrelevant information,” Khan said. “So even if somebody viewed something by accident, or willingly, there are very serious consequences including dismissal and suspension and termination of license, plus prosecution. There is not a single healthcare provider that I can think of who would be stupid enough to do that.”

The health department already receives medical records in cases of suspicious deaths in paper form. Requests are submitted to the relevant hospital system, printed, and delivered to the health department by secure courier. The process can take anywhere from a week to 10 days.

With electronic access, investigations could be completed and death certificates issued in a matter of days, if not hours, as opposed to waiting for weeks.

“This is just a case of our examiners being able to fill out an electronic request for access to a particular record, which then is made available to them electronically to view, and a log is maintained electronically of which record was accessed for how long and which information was viewed,” Khan said.

The only people who would have access to the system are chief medical examiner Mary Case and her team of three other forensic pathologists, according to Khan.

“They’re the only ones that would have access. I’m the director of the department – ​​I do not have access,” Khan said.

Khan said the health department has its own electronic health record system, and only the physicians that provide primary care services at its community health centers have access to those records.

“We follow the same stringent protocols of monitoring and tracking and auditing any level of access for any reason,” Khan said. “We’ve actually terminated employees, prosecuted people in years past when there’s been even a suspicion of inappropriate or irrelevant access.”

Requests for additional legislation to access electronic records at other hospital systems will be forthcoming, according to Khan. Each hospital system has their own cybersecurity and healthcare informatics protocols. Therefore, the health department will have to negotiate separately with all of them on what protocols and agreements to follow.

“Mercy just happened to be the first system we talked to. We are in talks with BJC, with SSM and Luke’s, as well,” Khan said. “So there will be other bills pertaining to those systems introduced in due time.”


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