Electronic health records: Improving patient safety by reducing medical errors

If you have had a doctor's appointment in recent months, chances are you have experienced firsthand the technological changes going on in many doctor's offices across the country. In the past, a doctor's visit would typically include a paper chart, in which the doctor and nurse would make notes regarding your visit. These days, with increasing regularity, doctor's offices are adopting electronic health record, or EHR, systems.

A number of companies have created different types of EHRs, which have been used with varying degrees of success. Like any computer system, ease of use is particularly important. Some doctor's offices have implemented more than one system before finding the one that best suits their needs. Nevertheless, studies have shown that doctor's offices that use EHRs generally benefit from their use.

Pros and cons of EHRs

The greatest benefit observed in doctor's offices and hospitals that have implemented EHRs is a decrease in the number of medical errors.

Recently, researchers conducted a study involving 275 doctors. Data was gathered from the physicians in 2005 and 2007. During that time, 33 doctors reported having 51 medical malpractice claims filed against their practice. Of those 51 total claims, 49 involved incidents that happened before the practice had implemented EHRs - only two involved incidents that happened after the practice began using EHRs.

While one researcher stated, "It's entirely possible that there's something still distinct and unusual about practices that adopted electronic health records earlier, and they just happen to practice in a way that reduces their risk of malpractice claims," the doctor noted that it was just as likely that EHRs "reduce the risk" of errors that lead to such claims.

Experts warn that physicians must continue to be vigilant in their practice, as some are concerned that doctors will rely too heavily on electronic records to the detriment of patient care.

In general, many doctor's offices and hospitals that have implemented electronic systems for healthcare records have found more benefits than disadvantages. For instance, while there is a learning curve immediately after a new system is implemented, if the system is designed properly, it will make daily tasks simpler and more efficient in the end.

In addition, front-office employees who previously would have spent much of their time doing paperwork are now able to focus on patients. Electronic records tend to lead to improved documentation, as well, which typically results in fewer problems with insurance companies and rejected claims.

New York medical malpractice claims

While electronic health records are meant to improve patient safety by decreasing medical errors, it is important to note that electronic record systems will not prevent all mistakes. Physician and hospital negligence will not be eliminated by the implementation of EHRs.

Patients injured as a result of medical negligence should hold the responsible party accountable. If you or a loved one has been injured because of a medical error, consulting with an experienced New York medical malpractice attorney will ensure your rights are protected.