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How Electronic Health Records Impact Medical Malpractice Liability

April 13, 2011

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine discusses how the age of electronic health records is affecting malpractice liability and the impact that access to this information has on both doctors and patients. The governmental sponsored Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 authorized grants and monetary incentives totaling an estimated $14 - $27 billion dollars to promote the "meaningful use" of electronic health records by providers.

Although there is much support by health care providers, policymakers, and patients for a health care system that powered by information technology, there are some possible effects of this technology on medical malpractice liability that are pointed out in this article. The article discusses where the possibilities of medical malpractice liability lie as separated into four different categories: the documentation of clinical findings, the recording of medical test and imaging results, the computerized provider-order entry phase, and the clinical-decision support phase. According to the journal article, the risks of malpractice vary during the different phases of implementation of an electronic health record system. A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer can use information obtained from these electronic records in court.

According to the journal article' findings, during the initial implementation of an electronic system in a medical facility, a provider' malpractice risk is actually increased. Several studies performed by accredited medical organizations have documented increases in computer-related errors during this initial stage that can result in an increased risk for malpractice. This is mainly due to the challenges presented when a facility moves from an old familiar method of entering data into a new computerized method.

The article contends that it is unclear whether the use of electronic systems is likely to increase or decrease malpractice liability overall after the initial implementation. Some malpractice insurers offer discounts to providers who make the switch from paper records to electronic systems. One recent study showed that physicians who used electronic systems reported a lower number of paid malpractice claims than did those who did not use electronic systems. Other studies have presented contradictory evidence.

The journal article concludes that the long term affects of electronic health care records and medical malpractice are uncertain. In order to prove medical malpractice, a plaintiff must establish the applicable standard of care and prove that the defendant caused injury by falling short of that standard. With electronic medical records, there may be various interpretations on how the standard of care should be applied particularly during initial implementation.

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