Harvard Study: Electronic Health Records Reduce Malpractice Claims

A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Medicine and published in the online edition of Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that after a physician practice implements an electronic health record system, the rate of malpractice claims drops to about one-sixth of what it was prior to adopting the technology.

The results of the study should be encouraging to the medical liability industry, as most physician practices that have yet to implement an EHR system are expected to over the course of the next few years. The federal government has made meaningful use of electronic health records a requirement to receive many of the incentives contained in the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act.

The Harvard study can be considered a harbinger of events to come, as the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act was modeled on a similar plan instituted in Massachusetts in 2006.

The study looked at data from two years, 2005 and 2007. Researchers looked at 275 physicians who had claims in 2005, and revisited those physicians two years later in 2007.

“Overall, 33 of the 275 physicians from multiple surgical and medical specialties who responded in 2005 and/or 2007 incurred a total of 51 unique claims; 49 of these claims were related to events occurring before EHR adoption, and two were related to events occurring after EHR adoption,” researchers wrote. Researchers reported medical malpractice claims were roughly 84 percent less likely for physicians who had adopted electronic medical records.

The researchers attribute the results to electronic health records improving communication between healthcare workers, speeding access to patient data, decreasing prescription errors and increasing compliance with clinical guidelines. They also note that the high quality and availability of proper documentation in EHRs may increase the likelihood of a successful defense against medical malpractice claims.

Electronic health records “improve quality and safety and, as a result, prevent adverse events and reduce the risk of malpractice claims,” said study co-author Steven Simon, MD, an associate professor with Harvard Medical School and an internist with VA Boston Healthcare System.

Perhaps more significant, the study should assuage fears that the adoption of EHR technology could actually increase the number of adverse events. Critics of EHRs have also argued that the technology opens new avenues of liability, especially in regard to data privacy and security issues.

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