Electronic health records (EHRs), used in place of voluminous paper records, may significantly reduce the risk of errors, and therefore medical malpractice claims. This finding is from a study published in the June 25 online edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Doctors have been very slow to adopt many newer technologies, including EHRs. Much of the hesitance is driven by concerns over the cost of switching to electronic systems, but also over concerns about how doctors’ ethical duties to their patients. In particular, effectively protecting patients’ privacy while using newer computer technologies remains difficult. The study, while limited in scope, offers support to the idea that use of EHRs may help prevent medication errors and other types of malpractice.
EHRs are a digital version of personal health records. In addition to personal identifying information like date of birth, they may include dates of treatment, results of tests, dates and descriptions of surgeries and illnesses, prescription medication history, and family medical history. Under state and federal privacy laws, this information is highly confidential, with severe penalties for medical professionals who breach privacy. EHRs offer the benefit of making comprehensive information easily accessible to a treating physician. Sophisticated systems may even alert a doctor or pharmacist of potential drug interactions with a new prescription. The downside, of course, is that a patient’s entire medical profile may be vulnerable to theft, or may be compromised by data or equipment failures.
Researchers reviewed records of closed claims for Massachusetts physicians who had coverage from a “major malpractice insurer” between 1995 and 2007. They also reviewed data from two random-sample surveys of Massachusetts physicians from 2005 and 2007. The two surveys had 275 and 189 respondents, respectively. The researchers had to statistically balance the doctors’ relative periods of insurance coverage and EHR usage.
Among the doctors who participated in the 2005 and 2007 surveys, used EHRs at some point, and reported medical malpractice claims, forty-nine claims occurred before the doctors began using EHR. Only two claims occurred afterwards. In the researchers’ estimate, physicians using EHRs were eighty-four percent less likely to be the subject of a medical malpractice claim after adopting an EHR system.
The study has several important limitations that affect the applicability of its findings to other geographic or practice areas. The researchers themselves pointed out that the study only considered Massachusetts doctors with some sort of affiliation with Harvard Medical School. They also concede that the use of EHRs by the doctors in the study is not the definitive cause of the reduced rate of malpractice claims. As lawyers say, correlation does not equal causation.
What the study does strongly suggest, according to supporters, is that the use of EHRs does not increase the risk of errors leading to malpractice claims. The study authors consider that the participants in the study might be “early adopters,” of new technology, who might have a corresponding attention to detail that would already make malpractice claims less likely. EHRs may not directly prevent pharmacy and prescription errors, but they apparently do not make the risk worse.
The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist you if you have been injured by drugs prescribed or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online, or by calling toll-free at (800) 654-1949 to see if you may recover damages.
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Study Finds Use of Interpreters in Hospital Emergency Departments Reduces Medication Errors Almost by Half, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2012
National Patient Safety Board Would Reduce Medication Errors, Say Celebrity Supporters, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2012
Electronic Prescriptions Help Doctors and Pharmacies Avoid Medication Errors, Prevent Fraud and Abuse, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, May 31, 2012