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As electronic apps and records become primary medical tools, a new study finds the number of malpractice claims involving electronic records is on the rise.

The digital age is upon us and there is no turning back.  Yet, it is clear that the medical field has not found stability in the use of electronic health records (EHRs) or the ways in which they are used beyond being a digital medical chart.

A recent study by the professional liability insurer, The Doctors Company, found aspects of EHRs caused a bump in the number of EHR-related medical malpractice claims between the years 2011 and 2016.

Medical Error Claims with EHRS Triple

Overall, the number of EHR-related malpractice claims rose from seven cases per year in 2010, to about 22 cases per year in 2017 and 2018.  That would mean medical error claims each year due to issues with EHRS are triple what they were eight years ago.

As medical malpractice insurers, the researchers in this study are interested in identifying areas of risk that could be addressed to reduce patient harm and claims made against the physicians they insure.

Examples cited in the study include:

  • Tendency to use copy and paste: As anyone who has read an EHR knows, electronic records are much larger and more repetitive than paper charts.  Patient medical history and notes from previous visits are drawn into the record for each encounter, known as “cloning”, creating huge files and confusion about the present status of the patient.  The study describes a medical clearance provided to a 38-year old patient who was obese. The test results were in the normal range.  In three months, the patient returned to his physician complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath.  His vital signs were out of range, but no further action was taken.  The patient passed away five days later of pulmonary embolism.  On review, it was discovered that vital signs of the patient had been copied and pasted from a previous visit, causing his acute condition to be unnoticed and untreated.
  • Incomplete records: In many cases, the EHR is used to record part of a medical encounter while a different form of charting, sometimes on paper, might be used by nursing staff.  In one case, a 55-year old patient was diagnosed with severe lumbar stenosis, a painful narrowing of the spinal canal through which the spinal cord passes. Compression of the spinal cord causes pain and dysfunction. After surgery, the patient suffered neurological changes and the nursing staff contacted the physician.  Yet, no doctor arrived and the patient suffered partial paralysis due to a failure to quickly return to surgery.  Researchers found the correct physician had not been contacted due to the use of both electronic and paper records that did not align to help this patient.

These are just two encounters of a type that occur every day.  Oftentimes these errors do not result in serious injury, but sometime they cause disability, delayed diagnosis, and death.  In the current “Wild West” era of digital medical records adoption, there will be more errors ahead.

If you suffer severe injury due to medical error, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area, or contact our office with your concerns.

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