Human Resource Management

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Outsourcing Medical Records Threatens Lives

June 22 2006 - Thousands of lives are being threatened because of the 'dangerous practice' of sending medical notes overseas for typing, according to speakers at the UNISON annual conference.

Speaking anonymously, one medical secretary said that mistakes had 'undoubtedly increased' since notes dictated by NHS doctors were transcribed in South Africa, the Phillippines and India. The transcribers do not have medical records, prescriptions or letters to compare for accuracy.

Condemning the practice as dangerous, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

"It's beyond belief. It does not improve the service and the health and welfare of patients is being put at risk. Look what happened to hospital cleaning when it was privatised - a 50% increase in infections. The government needs to rethink this off-the-wall idea."

The union also says that outsourcing is risking patient confidentiality and leading to job losses among local staff. For example, they cite East and North Herts NHS Trust which has issued redundancy notices to 160 medical secretaries and asked for 58 volunteers.

According to Dave Prentis: "Medical secretaries in the NHS work to 99.8% accuracy targets and once 'phased out' their knowledge and expertise will be lost forever."

Some of the mistakes collected by UNISON include confusing:

  • "hypertension" (high blood pressure) with "hypotension" (low blood pressure)
  • "a septic" (infected) with "aseptic" (not infected)
  • "15mg" and "50mg" drug dosages

"With more staff and an unknown technology there is greater scope for error," said UNISON head of health Karen Jennings.

"All the government is doing is looking for a cheaper workforce - yet it's doctors and medical students in these other countries that are being used to do the transcriptions."

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