The federal government has provided incentives for doctors and hospitals to convert medical records from paper to electronic formats. The idea is save not only money but lives from a reduction in human medical errors.
As of 2011, more than half (54%) of all U.S. physicians had adopted an electronic records system. Younger doctors have been quicker to embrace the systems, with 64% of those under the age of 50 adopting electronic records. The 2011 Physician Workflow study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that about three-fourths of doctors using electronic records believed they “enhanced patient care.”
However, more recent research has found many physicians having second thoughts. If you have been injured in a hospital recently, contact our hospital injury law firm for a free consultation, today!
Electronic Records Can Play Key Role in Medical Malpractice Cases
Insurance defense attorneys have called the use of electronic medical records a liability problem for healthcare professionals facing medical malpractice claims. On the other hand, you could also look at these records as tools that can be used in the pursuit of truth.
As MedCityNews.com reports, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or “The Stimulus Bill,” required most healthcare providers in the U.S. to make the shift to electronic medical records, or “EMR conversion.”
Providers needed to complete the change by the start of 2014. Organizations have received thousands of dollars in incentives to make the shift. Beginning in 2015, organizations that have failed to make the shift will face a small penalty.
A few years ago, a Texas health IT research and consulting firm said that electronic health records “both create new forms of medical liability and expose existing liability issues in the healthcare environment that might otherwise remain unknown,” according to InformationWeek.com.
As BusinessInsurance.com reports, earlier this year, one defense attorney told the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management’s annual conference that “plaintiffs seek to use [electronic records] as a sword, and we seek to use [them] as a shield.”
The attorney added that “doctors are not always aware that when they make a change in a medical record it is ‘there and easily found-able.’ … Plaintiff attorneys are well aware of the information and routinely ask for it.”
Medical Records Simply Reflect the Reality of Treatment Provided
In reality, electronic records simply show what has happened in a case – whether good or bad, helpful or hurtful to the doctors involved.
Medical malpractice cases hinge on the treatment provided to a patient. Medical records exist to simply document that treatment.
The use of electronic medical records allows a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney to turn over every stone in an investigation of a patient’s treatment.
If a case is valid, it may move forward at, perhaps, a faster pace than it could have before. On the other hand, if the case cannot be pursued, the reasons why will be apparent much sooner than they were before electronic records were used.
Electronic records are also permanent. Even when they are “deleted,” they can be retrieved, much like e-mail and other computer records.
In this sense, electronic medical records create a solid “paper” trail. This is a positive development for those seeking the truth in a medical negligence case.
The shift from paper to electronic medical records also increases their availability should questions about a medical case arise. Instead of the time and expense required for printing, copying and mailing reams of paper records connected to any significant medical case, a patient’s EMRs should be transferrable electronically or capable of being copied onto a flash or “jump” drive.
Because medical malpractice attorneys can obtain EMRs faster and have them reviewed sooner by consulting medical experts, injured patients or their grieving families are simply able to get answers sooner.
If you believe that the medical treatment you or a loved one has received was negligent and led to harm, it will be important to work with a medical malpractice attorney who is comfortable with using electronic medical records as well as other advances in medical technology.
Please feel free to contact Powers & Santola, LLP. We can provide a free review of your case and help you to get the answers you deserve.
Dissatisfaction with Electronic Records
USA Today reported recently on a study from the Rand Corp. that found that although doctors believe electronic records improve some aspects of patient care, they have negative effects too—increasing workload, limiting communication with patients, and costing far more than originally projected.
Doctors recognize the value of technology but say the programs are cumbersome.
Dr. Kevin Pho of New Hampshire reported in a column published by USA Today that it takes him 50 mouse clicks and dozens of screens to document an office visit for a sinus infection—a pretty straightforward doctor’s visit.
A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that emergency room doctors spent only 28% of their time talking to patients and 43% of their time entering information into a computer. In a single 10-hour shift, the average doctor clicked a mouse nearly 4,000 times.
This study brings up another complaint about electronic records: They limit face-to-face communication.
Patients like to look their doctors in the eyes. It provides reassurance that the physician is listening. But researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that medical interns spend only 12% of their time talking to patients and more than 40% of their time filling out electronic records and paperwork.
In the push for electronic medical records, savings was a big selling point. The Rand Corp. stated in a 2005 analysis that electronic records could save more than $80 billion every single year. But last year, the organization said it was mistaken and that figure was overstated.
Fewer Medical Errors
Nonetheless electronic records may have a big advantage: A possibly reduced risk of medical errors. Handwritten notes by doctors held the potential for numerous errors—transcription mistakes, dosage errors, missed diagnoses, and more. Many of these can be avoided with an electronic records system that avoids transcription mistakes before they occur.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted just how electronic medical records could work to reduce errors. One of the most prominent benefits of these systems is that they can reduce the risk of misdiagnoses. By streamlining doctor communications and putting all test results, lab results, and notes in a single place, the chances of missing information are reduced. Further, things like checklists, prescription dosage alerts, and other safety features have similarly made electronic records safer than the old notepad system.
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