December 4, 2023

Lack of accurate information on patient deaths in California strains resources

Editor's Note

In California, 20% of patients who have died were still being shown as alive with a serious illness in their medical records, leading to wasteful outreach and strain on hospital workers’ time, MedicalXpress December 4 reports. The findings were originally published in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Due to a California state law that makes full death data available only to law enforcement or fraud prevention purposes, this data is not available to health organizations, leading to serious gaps. As a result of this disconnect, healthcare workers were engaged in hundreds of needless interactions around appointment reminders, prescription refills, and other procedures. 

Among the findings:

  • Researchers tracked 11,698 seriously ill patients 18 and older across 41 UCLA Health clinics over 2 years and compared those noted as alive in the electronic health record against the public use death file. 
  • Of these, 2,920 patients were correctly listed as deceased; another 676 who were listed as alive in medical records were also deceased. 
  • Among those found to be deceased, 541 had an encounter or appointment still pending; follow-up continued for 19 months on average.

According to the UCLA researchers, the problem impacts all California hospitals as well as some in other states and should help to spur review of California and other health system records to maintain accuracy and limit waste.


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