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Understanding the relationship between EHR and malpractice suits

By Patrick Ouellette

A recent study shows numbers that prove EHR can be associated with a lower rate of Massachusetts malpractice claims.

Harvard researchers Mariah A. Quinn, MD, MPH; Allyson M. Kats, MSc, et al. had already determined in prior work that there was a lower rate of paid claims among Massachusetts physicians using EHRs. However, this most recent letter published in the Archives of Internal Medicine delved further into the relationship between EHR and malpractice among physicians. The new findings were composed of random samples of 275 and 189 Massachusetts physicians.

Using closed-claims data (1995-2007) from a major malpractice insurer in Massachusetts for physicians, the authors found that many claims occurred before EHR adoption. According to the report, 27 of 189 physicians surveyed were named in at least one malpractice claim. In all, 33 physicians incurred 51 claims. But the significant number was that 49 of those claims were reported before EHR adoption and only two post-implementation.

While it would be too soon to make broad generalizations based on these numbers because only 33% were involved in a lawsuit, they do prove that EHR at the very least can help reduce physician error rates. A physician with EHR access can improve accuracy with prescriptions, communicate with other physicians easier and get patient records in a timelier manner. In turn, these malpractice lawsuits can be avoided.

EHR, of course, isn’t a panacea and numbers can look good on paper but could’ve also been taken out of context. There are factors other than EHR adoption that may have contributed to lower malpractice rates. For example, early EHR adopters may have already been vigilant about potential malpractice lawsuits regardless of the transition from paper to EHR.

The information included in these findings gives good insight into malpractice numbers before and after EHR adoption. This is certainly a feather in the cap for those looking to have all healthcare providers using EHR. But, be sure to take the numbers for what they are. It’s hard to say that in each of the 49 claims prior to EHR implementation, having EHR alone would have prevented the lawsuits. This is a reminder that EHR can help your practice reduce errors, not eliminate potential malpractice lawsuits.

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