Electronic health records solve some problems but introduce others

Electronic recordkeeping is becoming more and more pervasive in America's hospitals and medical clinics, and although it has many advantages over traditional pen-and-paper methods, the technology introduces certain risks as well. According to data from The Doctors Company, a major medical malpractice insurer, only about one in 100 medical malpractice lawsuits resolved between 2007 and 2013 involved electronic health records. However, closer inspection suggests that this statistic may not accurately represent the full scope of the issue.

Tracing errors to their roots can take time

Electronic recordkeeping has only recently become routine among U.S. health care providers, and it often takes years to trace an adverse medical event back to its root cause. Thus, there is often a substantial gap in time between the harmful event and the time that a medical malpractice claim is filed. Resolving a medical malpractice lawsuit can also be a lengthy process, which means most claims that concluded during the sample period were initiated several years earlier, when electronic recordkeeping was still relatively rare.

More recent data on newly filed malpractice claims suggest that cases involving electronic recordkeeping errors could increase sharply in the coming years. As reported recently by Politico, those claims doubled between 2013 and the early months of 2014.

Benefits and drawbacks of electronic recordkeeping

Electronic medical records have been widely touted as eliminating many of the potentially harmful human errors associated with traditional pen-and-paper recordkeeping, such as illegible or ambiguous handwriting on prescription forms or patient files. Computerized record systems also allow easier communication between medical providers and clinics, thus helping doctors stay up to date on the care their patients receive from other providers.

However, while the new electronic systems are indeed helpful at reducing certain problems, they also introduce a new set of hazards such as typos, voice-recognition errors, drop-down menu mistakes and auto-correct problems, as well as the potential for old or incorrect records to be substituted in place of updated, corrected versions. These and other problems associated with electronic recordkeeping can have disastrous consequences for patients, such as medication dosage errors, harmful drug interactions, duplication or omission of key medical treatments and even surgery on the wrong body part.

Legal help is available

If you or a loved one has suffered an adverse medical outcome that you believe may be linked to a medical recordkeeping error or other form of negligence by a health care provider, be sure to talk your situation over with a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer. Contact Hixson & Brown, P.C., to learn about your legal options and the compensation that may be available to you.