Electronic Health Records in Medical Malpractice Litigation: Blessing or Curse for Patients and Providers?

Doctor on computer

In today’s digital world, the use of electronic health records (EHRs) is ever expanding. Interestingly, the inherent design of an EHR can significantly impact medical malpractice litigation.

What Is an Electronic Health Record?

An EHR provides all the same information as can be found in a patient’s paper chart, yet in a digital format, making it immediately accessible to authorized individuals. Doctors, laboratories, specialists, pharmacies and other medical professionals can all add and access information pertaining to an individual patient.  This may increase a doctor’s ability to make a more informed decision regarding treatment, and to do so in a timely fashion.

Pros and Cons of Electronic Health Records

Some of the benefits of having Electronic Health Records include:

  • Remote access to patient records
  • Increase in patient participation and communication

However, there are also disadvantages of electronic health records. If the healthcare provider doesn’t access all of the pertinent records, something can be missed. If a record or test result is not highlighted or otherwise brought to the physician’s attention, it may have an adverse consequence for the patient.

Can an EHR Impact the Spread of Ebola?

  • Case in point is one recently featured in a FierceEMR article involving the misdiagnosis of the first U.S. Ebola patient. According to the article, at the American Bar Association Health Law Section’s 16th Annual Conference on Emerging Issues in Health Care Law, a registered nurse talked about the fact that the EHR played a significant role in the misdiagnosis that led to the patient’s release from the Emergency Department (ED) and subsequent Ebola outbreak.
  • While the nurse’s notes included pertinent information on the patient’s travels to Liberia and the change in his vital signs, this information was not highlighted in the EHR. No confirmation could be made as to whether the doctor had read the EHR, or if any face-to-face communication occurred among the providers before the patient was discharged. Had either of these occurred, the patient may not have been discharged and the potential spread of Ebola may have been prevented.
  • These inherent design flaws open the door to medical malpractice litigation, such as the case involving one of the nurses who became infected with Ebola and who is suing the hospital for lack of proper training and safety protocols.

Primary Legal Issues Surrounding EHRs

  • EHRs are not without issues and potential risks. In cases where EHRs are not used properly, or details in an EHR are glanced over quickly rather than reviewed in detail, the consequences can be dire. This can open up hospitals and physicians to lawsuits and other legal actions.
  • Glitches, bugs or flaws in an EHR do not release a doctor or nurse from liability. It is the healthcare provider’s responsibility to maintain the integrity of patients’ records.
  • Many doctors believe EHRs slow down their ability to treat patients. Shortcuts, like copying and pasting information from one record to another, or from one portion of an EHR to another, are never advised, as the potential for error is high. Outdated information may overwrite more current details and could compromise key facts.
  • Mistakes or typos in an EHR can lead to medical errors, misdiagnosis and complications with medication or treatment. Various interfaces and menus can hide or obscure vital patient data. EHRs can also be hacked or breached, thus allowing unauthorized access to a patient’s privileged health and medical information.

How EHR Management Impacts Outcome of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

  • Doctors and other medical professionals must focus on the health and well-being of the patients they are treating. Shortcuts, lack of proper EHR training, and improper security measures leading to a breach in EHR security are all potential issues related to use of this medium. Medical errors as a result of inaccurate use of EHR information can also factor into the outcome of medical malpractice lawsuits. The data trail an EHR leaves can be used in a medical malpractice case to prove error or fault.
  • With all the ways in which problems could arise from the proliferation of electronic health records, management of EHRs must be closely monitored. Doing so can lower the risk of injuries, the spread of illnesses, or other dangers for patients.

For more information contact our attorney at the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson.

Injured patients and their families need solid legal guidance after a serious medical error. At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we listen attentively to our clients’ questions and concerns. Our goal is to help them move forward after devastating, even fatal medical errors.