Electronic Health Records Create New Liability Risks

Electronic health records (EHR) have the potential to reduce medical
errors, curb medical costs and improve patient safety. The computerization of
these records can also streamline patient care management and allow
practitioners to gather information more efficiently, according to the Agency
for Healthcare Research and Quality.

“Many people might think that EHRs are merely record-keeping
devices,” Sharona Hoffman, JD, LLM, professor of law and bioethics at Case
Western University, told O&P Business News. “In truth,
they are far more than that. They provide doctors with prompts and alerts and
doctors order diagnostic tests, medication and other forms of treatment through
their EHR systems.”

  Sharona Hoffman
  JSharona Hoffman

Despite its many technological advantages, EHR has the potential to
generate new liability risks that can not be ignored, according to Hoffman.

“Software bugs and computer shutdowns can lead to treatment errors,
loss of information, inability to access the patient record and other
problems,” Hoffman explained. “In addition, doctors have complained
that some systems are difficult to navigate and they cannot find the
information they need.”

Concerns regarding privacy will also increase the liability of a health
care provider, according to Hoffman. Privacy breaches could lead to litigation
for the practitioner.

“We must be concerned about hacking, lost laptops and accidental or
malicious disclosures by health care employees,” she said. “Once
patient information is released on the Internet, it can reach a worldwide
audience almost instantaneously.”

One way to safeguard against these risks is to appropriately train
doctors and health care practitioners through government and medical
organizations, Hoffman suggested.

“Proper training for everyone in the provider’s office takes a
lot of time and resources,” she argued. “Doctors have had to reduce
their patient load by half for a few weeks in order to master the technology.
This is possible for doctors working in big networks who have other doctors who
can cover for them. However, it is extremely difficult for small fpractices or
those in remote rural areas.”

Hoffman recommended that health care facilities implement EHR systems
cautiously and thoughtfully in order maintain the patient’s trust. By
placing the computer in a spot that allows the patient to look at the screen
with the doctor, practitioners can make patients feel as if they are building
the electronic grecord together in order to foster the patients’ trust.

“Dissatisfied patients who feel that the doctor was more concerned
with the computer than about them during treatment are more likely to sue if
they have a bad outcome than patients who are satisfied with their relationship
with the doctor,” Hoffman said.

Implementing these complex technological systems before practitioners
are truly comfortable and confident using them, has the potential for disaster.

“Everyone who uses word processing knows that errors can result
from either software bugs or user mistakes,” Hoffman said. “A word
processing error can be frustrating and embarrassing. However, an error in a
patient’s record can be a matter of life or death.” — by
Anthony Calabro

For more information:

  • Hoydicz J. Initial paper usage increases following EMR system
    implementation. O&P Business News. 2010;19(8):32. Available
    at: www.oandpbusinessnews.com/view.aspx?rid=66142. Accessed: July 12,

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