Could Electronic Medical Records Cause Medical Malpractice?

The move to digital media has affected every part of the modern world, including healthcare. One of the most fundamental changes to the medical industry may not be immediately obvious, but it has revolutionized care. This groundbreaking change is the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in place of paper copies. 

Electronic medical records, sometimes known as electronic health records, are exactly what they sound like. They’re digital files used by healthcare workers to keep track of patients’ health and treatment. Today, this seems completely natural, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the US developed a strategy to standardize EMRs. In fact, there are still many smaller and private practices that rely heavily on paper records.

The reluctance of some providers to swap from paper to digital is not always a fear of technology. These healthcare professionals are likely aware that EMRs can pose risks to their patients. When used incorrectly or without the appropriate safeguards, EMR systems may even lead to medical malpractice due to inaccurate entries by negligent medical workers. 

Here’s what you need to know about how electronic health records should be used, how they can be misused, and what you can do if you think your records have negatively impacted your healthcare.

Why Healthcare Providers Use Electronic Medical Records

In many ways, EMRs work just like paper records before them. Medical professionals will document patients’ health complaints, symptoms, medications, procedures, test results, diagnoses, treatment plans, and every other aspect of their care in their facility’s EMR system. The records are often directly linked to the provider’s insurance and payment processing programs as well, allowing the provider to cross-reference bills with treatments. 

There are three features that theoretically make EMRs superior to paper records:

  • Efficiency: Most people type much more quickly than they can write by hand so that healthcare workers may save significant time charting electronically. In addition, EMR programs often let workers carry information forward, so prescriptions and pre-existing conditions do not need to be re-written every time a patient needs care.
  • Accessibility: Electronic records are easy to store and retrieve. Anyone with access to the central database can quickly and easily pull up a patient’s records without searching through thousands of paper documents.
  • Portability: As a digital file, an EMR can be shared with other medical providers through the internet. In comparison, paper files often had to be faxed or mailed from office to office. Online transmission of records makes it significantly easier for patients to receive consistent care if they need to see multiple providers. 

Overall, properly used EMRs are faster and more efficient, allowing healthcare workers to spend more time with their patients. 

The Risks of Inaccuracy and EMRs

If electronic medical records are such an improvement over paper, how can they lead to medical malpractice? As with most instances of malpractice, the problem boils down to negligence. A study published by the Harvard Risk Management Foundation in 2017 examined five years of medical malpractice lawsuits involving EMRs and found that these record systems can lead to a significant risk of harm and even death. 

The fundamental problem identified in the study was inaccuracy. Healthcare workers rely on accurate medical records to make informed care decisions for their patients. When records are inaccurate, the quality of care is compromised. The study identified three EMR-related negligence issues that appeared in the majority of all lawsuits studied:

  • User error: Many record-keeping systems are more complicated than paper forms, causing poorly trained or negligent providers to make mistakes. For example, if a clinician doesn’t know how to access allergy warnings, they may prescribe a drug that could kill the patient. 
  • Entering information incorrectly: If a system doesn’t have safeguards, a medical professional may make a typo in the records that goes unnoticed. If this incorrect data isn’t caught, it could remain in the record and affect patient care permanently. This could include failing to record listing the wrong medications or doses, potentially causing the patient to overdose.
  • Pre-population or copy-and-paste errors: Record systems allow healthcare workers to prefill forms automatically or copy and paste data from previous entries. However, if this information is outdated, it can delay diagnoses, impact prescriptions, and prevent patients from receiving necessary care. For example, if old information is copied without noting a patient’s newly discovered amoxicillin allergy, they may be prescribed this common antibiotic and experience a severe anaphylactic reaction.

In short, EMR systems are new and may not have the same safeguards as paper documentation. As a result, information is frequently entered incorrectly, and patients’ diagnoses and care suffer for it.  

EMRs also pose a risk of HIPAA violations. If a hospital doesn’t secure its systems properly and train its staff, private and sensitive patient data could be accessed by unauthorized staff or stolen by hackers. While a privacy breach is not the same as medical malpractice, the subjects are often related. Furthermore, if an institution does not protect its patients from HIPAA violations, it may indicate a generally negligent approach that could affect record-keeping and quality of care.

What to Do If Inaccurate Medical Records Hurt You

If your medical records aren’t accurate, you’re less likely to get the care you need. Your healthcare team could negligently misdiagnose you, prescribe you medications you’re allergic to, or even perform unnecessary procedures. In all of these cases, you may be the victim of EMR-related medical malpractice. If these situations sound familiar, you can hold the negligent providers accountable for failing you. At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we have decades of experience helping people like you pursue justice for medical harm they’ve suffered. Schedule your consultation with our Los Angeles medical malpractice attorneys to discuss your case today.

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