Study: Electronic Health Record Use Increasingly Cited as Contributing Factor in Medical Malpractice Claims

Patients in hospital bed with vital sign monitor in foreground.

According to The Doctors Company, 80 percent of physician office practices and 90 percent of hospitals currently use electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs were adopted by healthcare facilities to provide easier access, facilitate collaboration, and improve efficiency for healthcare providers. Unfortunately, despite the positive impact on patient safety and health care, the use of EHRs has also presented new kinds of errors that can cause dramatic negative consequences on patient health outcomes.

A study conducted by The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance provider, compared closed medical malpractice claims that the company received between 2007 and 2014 and between 2014 and 2016. The company found that the number of medical malpractice claims in which electronic health records were a contributing factor have continued to increase over the past decade.

EHR-related claims involved both system factors and human error factors.

System factors include:

  • EHR system design
  • Lack of access due to the system being offline or dysfunctional
  • Data not shared amongst relevant parties or departments
  • Insufficient area for documentation
  • Lack of system alerts and alarms
  • Lack of system security

Human error factors include:

  • Inconsistency between hard copy records and electronic records
  • Copy-and-paste and auto-populating fields
  • Data entry errors
  • Insufficient training on EHR use
  • Bypassing or ignoring alerts and alarms

Key Findings from the Electronic Health Record Study

Between 2007 and 2010, the company stated that there were only two claims involving electronic health records as a contributing factor. The recent study revealed that there were 66 cases between 2014 and 2016.

Here are some of the key findings from the study:

  • Between 2014 and 2016, 50 percent of EHR-related claims were due to system design errors and 58 percent were due to user errors. Some claims involved multiple factors, both system and user-related.
  • Most EHR-related claims events occur in hospital clinics and doctor’s offices.
  • Between 2014 and 2016, there was an increase of EHR-related claim events occurring in patient rooms.
  • The most common allegation in malpractice claims related to the use of EHR were diagnosis-related. The second most common allegation involved medication-related allegations, including improper medication management, wrong dosage, or wrong medication.
  • EHR-related claim events occurred most often in the obstetrics and gynecology specialty.

In the medical malpractice claims that The Doctors Company handled, typically EHR was cited as a contributing factor and not the primary cause. The company also noted that a study has not been conducted on written health record-related medical malpractice claims that they have seen, stating that the risk posed by this form of documentation “may well be higher” than that of electronic records.

Sources of EHR-related Problems

The authors of the study believe that many problems pertaining to the use of electronic health records could have been avoided in the first place. For one, the authors believe that the government could have done a better job in developing standards for EHR use and requirements to ensure usability and safety before ushering in widespread adoption in 2009. According to the study, healthcare workers played a small role in helping develop the EHR, and their concerns have not been properly addressed. Future optimizations of EHR technology, including workflow improvements, standardization of protocols, and use of artificial intelligence, could take years to implement.

Have You Been the Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you believe that you or a loved one have suffered an injury or illness due to the negligent actions of a healthcare provider, call Thomas J. Henry. Our medical malpractice attorneys are experienced in handling many types of complex malpractice cases. Healthcare professionals have a duty to look after your health and well-being and adhere to the standards of their profession. Contact our attorneys for a free legal consultation — we are available 24/7, nights and weekends.

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