There’s strong consensus that the American medical system must march decisively into the era of electronic health records and the shift is happening rapidly, particularly here in Massachusetts.
But understandably, some concerns remain that computer glitches could potentially cause errors. I don’t even like to imagine a doctor with my technological abilities — or lack thereof — getting used to a new prescription or diagnostic system. So here’s a bit of reassuring news from a paper just out online in the Archives of Internal Medicine:
“The rate of medical malpractice claims when electronic health records (EHRs) were used appeared to be about one-sixth the rate when EHRs were not used, according to a research letter that reported on a total of 51 unique closed malpractice claims and survey data from some Massachusetts physicians.”
From the paper, some interesting analysis on whether this really means better medicine is being practiced:
This study adds to the literature suggesting that EHRs have the potential to improve patient safety and supports the conclusions of our prior work, which showed a lower risk of paid claims among physicians using EHRs. By examining all closed claims, rather than only those for which a payment was made, our findings suggest that a reduction in errors is likely responsible for at least a component of this association, since the absolute rate of claims was lower post-EHR adoption.
Unmeasured factors may, in part, account for the apparent 6-fold reduction in malpractice claims attributed to EHRs. For example, physicians who were early adopters of EHRs may exhibit practice patterns that make them less likely to have malpractice claims, independent of EHR adoption; these early adopters contribute a disproportionate amount of time in our analyses, favoring an effect of EHRs on reducing malpractice claims. Furthermore, other interventions may have occurred concurrent with EHR implementation that could account for some of the observed reduction of malpractice claims attributed to EHRs.
While this study includes only a small number of post-EHR claims, it suggests that implementation of EHRs may reduce malpractice claims and, at the least, appears not to increase claims as providers adapt to using EHRs. The reduction in claims seen in this study among physicians who adopted EHRs lends support to the push for widespread implementation of health information technology.