Can EMRs Increase Medical Malpractice Risk?

by | Last updated on Sep 11, 2023 | Published on Apr 22, 2013 | EHR/EMR

During the period 2008 – 2011, the percentage of physicians that adopted basic EMRs in their practice doubled, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011. More increase was recorded in the number of primary care physicians adopting the new technology – the increase noted was from 20 to 39 percent. While electronic medical records have their advantages, there are legal issues involved.

An issue that has been raised is whether EMRs can increase the risk for medical malpractice claims. It is contended that the risk of error is maximum during the time gap between the physician’s transition from his familiar office system to a new one. Another issue is that EMRs are likely to increase the availability of more well-organized and detailed clinical data that can prove or defend a malpractice claim, thereby affecting the very course of medical malpractice litigation. While providers gain more access to information with EMRs, it also increases the possibility of the prosecuting lawyers identifying some proof of malpractice or medical error. Moreover, physicians who fail to refer to a patient’s history and make errors on account of that are more likely to be penalized by the court because EMRs make it easier to refer to a patient history.

It is a fact that electronic medical records provide physicians with a rich storehouse of resources aimed at improving patient care. Support features include follow-up reminders, clinical decision support, clinical prediction rules and pop-up alerts. These may to a certain extent influence the physician’s clinical decision making, but ultimately the physician is accountable for any medical decision he has made. To be more precise, it is difficult to hold the EMR vendor responsible even if there is some error in the system. This again puts the physician more at risk of malpractice.

Medical errors may increase with EMR implementation, especially in the case of physicians who become too dependent on the new system. Studies show that computerized physician order entry systems are highly prone to error. An accidental mouse click may lead to a grievous error. Even a simple feature such as copy-paste carries the risk of continuing mistakes once made, and are not likely to be corrected. From the legal point of view, the copy-paste function poses issues related to authorship as well.

Given the fact that there are potential threats related to EMR adoption, healthcare entities including individual physicians, group practices, clinics and hospitals need to be extra careful when implementing and utilizing EMR.

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