Using electronic health records to improve patient safety has proven a difficult task

i-usingelectronichealthrecordstoMedical errors that can be traced to the automation of the U.S. health care system are increasingly an issue in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Electronic health records (EHRs) were first introduced as a way to improve patient safety. Many believed EHRs would make doctors’ notes more comprehensive and legible. Electronic health records can also alert doctors to lab results that require immediate attention and prompt doctors to provide preventative health checkups, in addition to other benefits.

These benefits are only realized if the system works according to its design, however. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Studies on whether EHRs provide any benefit to patients have proven inconclusive, according to the ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization. For example, implementing EHRs in an office requires a physician to change standards of practice and documentation. Unfamiliarity with a new electronic system can lead to errors that result in anything from misdiagnoses to medication errors.

Nonetheless, the use of EHRs in doctors’ offices and hospitals are increasing. In 2009, the federal government committed $30 billion in resources and incentives to implement EHRs for doctors and hospitals that provide Medicare and Medicaid services. However, already over 250,000 physicians have not been able to comply with the government’s EHR requirements. On June 10, 2015, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee met to discuss “five or six steps that we can take working with the administration to improve electronic health records,” according to Chair Lamar Alexander. According to Senator Alexander, because of EHRs “doctors are spending more time taking notes than taking care of patients.”

Lawsuits involving electronic data storage increasing

Lawsuits over a broad range of electronic health record errors have risen in recent years. Typos that result in medication errors, juxtaposition errors (selecting the wrong medication or patient from a drop-down menu list, for example) and communication errors (such as between referring physicians) are all still possibilities when using EHRs. And EHRs provide unique challenges in medical malpractice claims.

One such challenge is determining who is at fault for the error or negligence. Vendors that provide electronic health record systems for doctors are generally not legally responsible for any errors that occur. Under the “learned intermediary” doctrine, it is the responsibility of the doctor to provide appropriate care, whatever system he or she uses to track a patient’s health history. However, lawsuits against EHR vendors may soon be an option for injured patients.

In addition, the use of EHRs can make it difficult to discover what went wrong when medical negligence occurs. if an EHR is incorrect, it often becomes difficult to make sense of the medical record.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help

Improving on electronic health records in the medical industry is going to take a large-scale effort by doctors, hospitals, EHR providers, and Congress. But whether or not a doctor uses EHRs or traditional methods, doctors must provide reasonable care to patients. If a doctor fails to provide such care, then he or she can be held legally responsible for that error.

Cirignani, Heller & Harman, LLP, is an experienced law firm in Chicago which focuses on medical malpractice claims.

Keywords: EHRs, misdiagnoses, medication errors, Pensions, medical malpractice claims