Do electronic health records lower malpractice risk?

Possibly, says Molly Merrill at Healthcare Finance News:

[A] study, which appeared in the November 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, shows a trend toward lower paid malpractice claims for physicians who are active users of EHR technology.

The study found that 6.1 percent of physicians with EHRs and 10.8 percent of physicians without them had paid malpractice settlements in the preceding 10 years. The investigators, after controlling for potential confounding variables, found a trend favoring EHR use, although the results weren’t statistically significant.

In a secondary analysis among EHR adopters, the authors found that 5.7 percent of more active users of their systems had paid malpractice settlements, compared with 12.1 percent of less active users. The authors said the small numbers of physicians in both groups led them to interpret the results with caution.

So why would using an EMR/EHR system cut malpractice risk?

The investigators speculate that EHRs may decrease paid malpractice claims for a number of reasons. EHRs offer easy access to patients’ history, which may result in fewer diagnostic errors, improved follow-up of abnormal test results and better adherence to clinical guidelines. The clear documentation of care allowed by EHRs can also bolster legal defenses if a malpractice claim is filed.

We need better studies to confirm or deny this connection.  Another potential explanation not listed is that there may be a population selection at work here.  Put differently, perhaps the subset of physicians and practices that use EMR/EHR systems practice qualitatively better medicine, are more practice management-oriented and go to greater lengths to avert medicolegal risk, or are in some other fashion just different from practices that do not as readily use health information technology.

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