According to a study conducted by Conning Research and Consulting, an insurance industry research group, hospitals, physicians and other health care providers may end up paying more for medical malpractice if they use electronic medical records instead of the “old school” paper chart. Why, you ask? Get this, because patients will have access to medical records that will be legible to more than just the physicians who write them. Seriously, this is one of the major reasons presented in the report.
The study warns that more patients will choose to sue doctors because electronic medical records are easier to access. They are, of course, easier to read. Additionally, because it is easier to compile, update, and organize information digitally, electronic records generally contain a lot more information than is customarily included in a paper chart.
The report also mentions that the cost of medical malpractice insurance may go up because of litigation associated with the implementation and maintenance of computer programs that are used to create electronic medical records. Yet another reason advanced is that medical malpractice lawyers will seek to obtain costly production of metadata associated with electronic medical records.
The latter two reasons seem to be a bit attenuated considering that most jurisdictions have specific definitions of medical negligence, which do not include torts arising from the actions of IT personnel. If anything, such torts would include claims of general negligence, negligent supervision and product liability. In these contexts, a health care provider’s medical malpractice insurance premiums should not be affected. With respect to requests for production of metadata, I am not sure the group really appreciates how easy it is to obtain metadata. Matadata is nothing but code that can easily be derived from digitally stored information and copied on a CD at a very low cost.
How the Health Care Reform Bill Comes into Play
A more credible justification for an increase in the cost of medical malpractice insurance is the increase in transparency as more and more healthcare providers turn to electronic medical records. There is no turning back. Pursuant to President Obama’s recently enacted Health Care Reform Bill, health care providers must adopt electronic medical records by 2012 in order to qualify for federal funds. Because the new law will enable an estimated 32 million people to become insured by 2014, the implementation of electronic medical records is seen as a necessary measure to make medical services more efficient.
The Maryland Experience
In Maryland alone, an estimated 200 health care providers have elected to participate in the State’s electronic medical record system. It is estimated that another 1000 health care providers will turn to electronic medical records in light of the available 25 million dollar in federal assistance to help pay for the transition.
We have said it many times before in our blogs – information is power. If electronic medical records will make it harder for insurance companies to hide behind illegible, confusing, and incomplete medical records, this is great news for all patients. Hopefully, as electronic medical records become more prevalent, we can begin to deconstruct the notion that most medical malpractice cases are over bad results as opposed to genuine negligence by health care providers.
Has your medical care has been impacted by inaccuracies or ambiguities in your medical record. Tell us your story.I
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For more information about the prevalence of injuries as a result of medical errors, see our previous posting, Medical Malpractice – Serious Medical Errors: Failure of the System or Just Plain Ignorance