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Medical Malpractice Implications of Electronic Medical Records (EMR)


The use of electronic medical records is one of the largest and costliest source of physician and surgeon medical malpractice insurance claims. User error, such as incorrect data input, contributes to the majority of medical malpractice claims that involve electronic health records. Some worry that patient safety issues and data security problems could outweigh the benefits of electronic health records over the long term.

As electronic medical records are used more and more by doctors’ offices and hospitals, the frequency of errors increases, thereby increasing medical malpractice lawsuits.

The medical malpractice lawsuits allege a wide range of errors, including typos that lead to medication mistakes; voice-recognition software that drops key words; physicians falling back on old records; and nurses’ misinterpretation of drop-down menus.

EMRs require physicians to perform their own data entry, stealing precious face time with patients. What had been a note jotted into a paper record, now involves a dozen or more mouse clicks to navigate a complex EMR workflow.

In addition, there may be a discrepancy between the information a physician or nurse sees on the electronic medical record screen and the printed material the plaintiff brings to the courtroom, resulting in juries discrediting the physician and awarding a large judgment.

Added to these are basic errors, like incorrect information entered into the electronic system, conversion from printed to electronic records, errors while copying or pasting, and overall physician or nurse fatigue.

According to Dr. David B. Troxel, medical director of The Doctors Company, “electronic health records provide benefits but also create risks that can contribute to medical malpractice claims,”…“Their widespread use is too recent to tell whether the benefits will outweigh the risks and result in a decrease in adverse patient events. In the meantime, I believe we will see an increase in claims over the next few years in which EMRs are a contributing factor.”…“I get more calls from frustrated, angry doctors about their EMRs than any other subject.”

According to Dr. Troxel, internal medicine subspecialists – including cardiologists, hospitalists, oncologists, and gastroenterologists – were the most likely to see EMR-related claims at 20%. Primary care physicians – family physicians and general internists – faced claims in 16% of cases, while OB/GYNs were accused in 15% of cases. Other cases involved claims against surgeons (14%), nurses (7%), radiologists (5%), anesthesiologists (4%), general surgeons (4%), pediatricians (2%), emergency medicine physicians (2%), psychiatrists (2%), orthopedists (2%), and pathologists (1%).

Barbara Gracey Backer


Barbara Gracey Backer is the Vice-President of Gracey-Backer, Inc., an Insurance Agency in Delray Beach, Florida specializing in All Lines of Professional and Personal Insurance. She may be contacted at 800-272-6055 X118 or at barbara@gbifl.com.

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