Most of us can remember a time when our doctors scribbled notes on paper inside a folder while talking to us. Now most of us see only our doctor’s back while he or she types information into a computer whenever we visit. The change is due to the introduction of electronic health records.
A new study has found that doctors who use these electronic health records are less likely to get sued than their colleagues who stick with traditional paper records.
Electronic health records were first introduced 30 years ago in the United States to streamline patient care. They allow different doctors treating a single patient to access each other’s notes and see what medications the patient has been prescribed. Some researchers have worried that doctors could make more mistakes using electronic medical records because they are using a new and unfamiliar system and could write notes and prescribe drugs in the wrong patient’s record.
A new study reported by the Reuters news service has found, however, that using electronic health records (EHR) was tied to an 84 percent lower chance of getting sued. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
One researcher not involved in the study said doctors may have to wait to see the longer-term effects of electronic records on malpractice suits – including whether the technology allows more medical decisions to be scrutinized in court.
Only about one-third of all doctors are using electronic health records, according to some studies. More advanced electronic medical records systems warn doctors if they’re about to prescribe a drug that may interact with other medications.
“Electronic health records in general tend to improve the quality of care by decreasing the number of mistakes, and to the extent to which mistakes drive malpractice claims, you should be seeing less claims,” said Dr. Sandeep Mangalmurti, who has studied health technology and malpractice at the University of Chicago. But when electronic records are first being introduced within a system, more mistakes could happen, he added.
Dr. Brian Strom, who has also studied electronic health records at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, said mistakes can be introduced, but they are avoidable. “We need an iterative process that develops the product, identifies the errors, fixes the errors and keeps testing,” said Strom.
Researchers said worries over malpractice suits probably aren’t delaying the introduction of electronic health records. Instead, what’s delaying the use of the electronic records is the time it takes for doctors and nurses to learn the systems.
SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, online June 25, 2012.
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