EHRs Can Reduce Doctors' Malpractice Claims: Study

When physicians use electronic health records, they're less likely to face malpractice claims, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Using electronic health records could help doctors face fewer malpractice suits, a study by Harvard Medical School researchers revealed.

In their study, called "The Relationship Between Electronic Health Records and Malpractice Claims," the Harvard researchers found that 84 percent of respondents were less likely to face malpractice claims after implementing EHR platforms.

The Archives of Internal Medicine, part of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) network, published the findings on its Website June 25.

Between 2005 and 2007, researchers interviewed 275 doctors in the surgical and medical specialties. Of the claims the doctors received during this period, 49 out of 51 involved events that happened before they adopted EHRs.

Participating doctors were members of Harvard Medical School and covered by a malpractice insurer, Controlled Risk Insurance Company/Risk Management Foundation (CRICO/RMF).

"The high quality and availability of proper documentation in EHRs may increase the likelihood of successful defense against malpractice claims," the report stated.

The authors of the study include Dr. Steven Simon, associate professor with Harvard Medical School and chief of general internal medicine at the VA Boston Healthcare System, as well as Dr. Mariah Quinn of the department of internal medicine at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a nonprofit medical group practice serving eastern Massachusetts.

"At the very least, this study should provide doctors and medical groups with further assurance that EHR adoption is very unlikely to increase their odds of a malpractice claim," Simon told eWEEK in an email.

To arrive at the study's results, Harvard researchers used a statistical method called Poisson regression to find a linear correlation between its 2005 and 2007 results.

"Because physicians in the sample were insured for different durations and used EHRs for variable amounts of time, the number of insured years was calculated for each physician before and after EHR adoption," the report stated.

"This study adds to the literature suggesting that EHRs have the potential to improve patient safety and supports the conclusions of our prior work, which showed a lower risk of paid claims among physicians using EHRs," the report stated.

When doctors used EHRs, malpractice claims were about one-sixth the rate of those reported when EHRs were not used, according to the study.

Researchers conducted two surveys between 2005 and 2007. Of 275 doctors interviewed, 189 participated in both 2005 and 2007, and reported that 27, or 14.3 percent, were involved in at least one malpractice claim.

In addition to reducing medical claims, health IT may improve communication among providers, speed up access to patient data, make the prescribing of medication safer and increase compliance with clinical guidelines, according to the report.

On one hand, EHRs also contributed to a reduction in medical errors, according to the report, yet some physicians surveyed feared negative effects from implementing EHRs.

"While EHRs enhance documentation, make visits more efficient, reduce medication errors, and allow providers to track and manage their entire patient population, some physicians harbor reservations about potential unintended consequences of EHRs, including a possible increased risk of adverse events," the report stated.

A March 2011 survey by CDW Healthcare showed some distrust of EHRs on the patient side, as well. Of 1,000 Americans interviewed by CDW between Jan. 24 and Jan. 31 of last year, 49 percent believed that EHRs would affect their privacy negatively.