Increase in Medical Malpractice Claims Related to Errors in Electronic Health Records

According to a new study, malpractice claims involving electronic health records (EHR) have been on the rise over the last 8 years. While they represent only a small percentage of claims, the substantial growth in the use of EHR seems likely to fuel more lawsuits. Since 2009, the percentage of doctors using EHRs has increased from 15% to more than 90%. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 96% of hospitals and 86% of physicians’ offices had access to electronic health records as of 2017. Although there are benefits, there have been problems that have impacted patients. Just as misreading bad handwriting previously resulted in patients getting the wrong medication or treatment, clicking on the wrong selection on a computer screen or other errors can lead to the same problem.

Claims may arise from technology and design issues or user-related issues. Technology-related errors can include EHR failures, alert problems, insufficient scope/area for documentation, incompatible systems and other problems. User-related mistakes may involve data entry, incorrect cut/copy/paste, lack of training, ignoring alerts, etc. EHR-related problems most commonly result in allegations of malpractice involving improper diagnosis; improper management of a surgical patient or a treatment plan; improper performance of surgery, treatment, or procedure; or wrong medication or dosage. EHR-related claims may also be based on a physician’s failure to access or make use of available patient information.

For an attorney bringing or defending a medical malpractice claim involving EHR, the EHR is more likely a contributing factor, rather than the primary cause of the claim. However, it is not always clear. An example from the study discussed a doctor who prescribed a medicine using an abbreviation which the system interpreted incorrectly as a different medication. While the system should not have auto-completed the prescription (a system or design flaw), the doctor and pharmacist arguably should have taken greater care in verifying the data and prescription.

Another example of the blurred line between technology and user problems is where a user makes a data entry mistake which is then replicated across the organization’s system and the systems in other organizations, such as pharmacies and other providers’ EHRs. Although the error may be fixed in one system, it may not be reflected everywhere.

These medical malpractice cases are likely to involve detailed testimony and evidence regarding causation and the appropriate standard of care. Expert witnesses in the relevant specialties will be needed to analyze questions of whether the physician had reasonable access to the patient’s history and properly reviewed and verified data entered or provided before giving treatment. The study noted that primary care doctors (Internal Medicine and Family Medicine practitioners) are the ones most likely to face lawsuits involving EHR but they do affect a wide-range of specialties, including cardiology and radiology as the specialties with the next highest percentage of EHR claims. As a result, the type of expert witness needed will vary depending on the facts of the case.

If you are considering or involved in litigating claims involving electronic health records, contact Elite Medical Experts. We provide completely customized expert searches helping you secure university medical and pharmacology experts for all types of medical litigation and complex consulting matters. We also provide access to nationally recognized experts in the forensic examination of electronic health records.

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