Electronic medical record may increase malpractice risk, according to a physician survey.

This is not unexpected, since documentation can work either way:

Which three aspects of an EHR do you think would be most helpful in decreasing your malpractice risk?
If you own or are shopping for an electronic health record, chances are that reducing your liability risk is not one of your top reasons for doing so.
That’s the most important conclusion of a physician survey done recently by Medical Economics and The Doctors Co., a leading malpractice insurer. According to the responses from 548 doctors, improving the ability to defend a malpractice suit ranked far below other reasons for acquiring an EHR, such as more timely access to records, better quality of care, and better documentation.

Well, that doesn’t exactly say that an electronic medical record may increase malpractice risk, but the same is a fair conclusion from physicians’ views that the EMR is not sought-after just to decrease malpractice risk.

Respondents also believed that some characteristics of EHRs could raise their liability risk. The doctors picked system crashes, diversion of attention from patient signs and symptoms, and “charting by exception” as the three areas where their exposure could increase the most when using an EHR.
The survey respondents are either Doctors Co. customers or readers of Medical Economics, and 36 percent use EHRs. More than half are primary care physicians; nearly half have been in practice for more than 20 years; 76 percent are male, and 25 percent are from California. While the study’s results do not represent all US physicians, the findings reveal some basic attitudes that physicians have about EHRs and liability exposure, according to malpractice attorneys and health IT experts.

Clearer documentation can help reduce malpractice liability risk by showing a clean trail of medical decision-making (hopefully according to the prevailing standard of care). Sloppy documentation can, among other things, lead to physician discipline. The EMR is in a format that ideally promotes clarity and conformance to standards.
Technology has its pros and cons. But apart from system crashes, a good system increases efficiency and effectiveness; if it’s a “diversion” from good care, the gain is obviously not worth the cost.


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The Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on holistic, alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies. The law firm represents medical doctors, allied health professionals (from psychologists to nurses and dentists) and other clinicians (from chiropractors to naturopathic physicians, massage therapists, and acupuncturists), entrepreneurs, hospitals, and educational organizations, health care institutions, and individuals and corporations.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, energy healing, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. Michael H. Cohen is author of books on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy dealing with complementary, alternative and integrative medicine, including Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), and Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has been admitted to the Bar of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. In addition to qualifying as a U.S. attorney, he has been admitted and to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing). For more information regarding the law practice of attorney Michael H. Cohen, see the FAQs for the Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen. Thank you for visiting the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog.