Will Electronic Records Lead to Fewer Medical Errors?

Will Electronic Records Lead to Fewer Medical Errors?

As a New York medical malpractice lawyer I know that a lot of medical mistakes happen because of administrative mix ups.

It should go without saying that keeping proper records is vital to patient care–medical professionals need to know all the relevant medical information when making treatment decisions.

Yet, mistakes continue to be made which would have been prevented had records been kept properly or analyzed accurately.

That it why I was interested to see a recent Harvard study which suggests that electronic records correlate with decreased patient errors.

Electronic medical records have been touted as an important way to improve medical safety.

This latest study is the first to offer some proof that errors decrease following transitions to these records.

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Electronic Records

Due to advances in technology, electronic records allow medical professionals to use computers to track patients and patient care rather than pieces of paper in files.

Supporters of moving to this system highlight that keeping track on computers makes it easier for doctors to identify problems such as medication conflicts and allergies.

It also makes communication easier and files more efficiently transferable for consultation with other doctors and with the patients themselves.

The medical community has been wary of this change, partly because of the cost of switching systems away from paper files.

But the change has been a long time coming.

It is astonishing that in this era of tablet computers and smart phones it is so uncommon to use email to communicate with physicians.

A 2010 HealthDay/ Harris Interactive poll found fewer than one in ten adults used email to communicate with their doctor.

But many doctors have resisted the change in communication and filing records, saying there could be “unintended consequences.”

One consequence doctors and medical professionals fear is that the ease of reviewing electronic medical records would make it easier to find errors, and therefore lead to an increase in medical malpractice claims.

The Harvard Study

Obviously, the ability to identify problems and correct them to keep patients safe is the entire purposes of this change.

The recent study from Harvard shows that, these records may do exactly what they intent–limit the amount of medical errors caused by paperwork problems.

Study co-author Dr. Steven Simon, associate professor with the Harvard Medical School and internist with VA Boston Healthcare System, noted that:

“[Electronic records] improve quality and safety and, as a result, prevent adverse events and reduce the risk of malpractice claims.”

Researchers for the study tracked malpractice cases for 275 Massachusetts doctors who were surveyed in 2005 and 2007.

Thirty three were targeted for malpractice claims.

Forty nine claims involved alleged malpractice before the doctors adopted electronic records.

Two were from incidents after.

In all, the researchers concluded that malpractice claims were 84 percent less likely to occur after an electronic record system was put in place.

The researchers did consider that other factors may be in play here and that the correlation may not be causation.

Doctors using electronic records may be “early adopters” whose style of medicine is less likely to lead to errors.

Also, Massachusetts made big changes to the state’s health care system in 2006, which could have impacted the study as well.

In addition, the pool of sampled doctors was limited to Massachusetts doctors affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

Clearly this study represents just the beginning of research into the effect of a shift to electronic records.

Nevertheless, the study is an important first step, indicating correlation between electronic records and improved patient safety.

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Founder Anthony T. DiPietro, Esq. is a compassionate and skilled trial attorney who has completely dedicated the past 23 years of his career to litigating medical malpractice and sexual abuse cases against major corporate institutions including hospitals, medical clinics, schools, and other wrongdoers.

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