Bill protecting EHR users panned for 'discouraging' system improvements

A bill introduced last month in the House of Representatives that provides some legal protections to users of certified electronic health record systems appears to be garnering mixed reviews, according to the Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based Times Leader.

The bill, the "Safeguarding Access for Every Medicare Patient Act," introduced by Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino in October, provides some legal "safe harbors" to providers who either are in the EHR incentive program, or otherwise can demonstrate that they're using a certified EHR system. Among other things, the bill would: 

  • Allow EHR users to report an adverse event related to the EHR to a patient safety organization (such reports would be kept confidential, pursuant to the law creating such organizations);
  • Bar evidence of subsequent remedial measures to an EHR-related adverse event from being admissible in healthcare lawsuits;
  • Limit electronic discovery of these events; 
  • Protect users from libel or slander in some instances;
  • Require speedy resolution of claims. 

The bill has gained some supporters, particularly in light of last month's Institute of Medicine report that also suggests that patient safety regarding EHRs needs to be ramped up. Opponents of the bill, though, claim that granting legal immunity for reporting medical errors caused by faulty EHRs deprives patients of their rights to compensation for malpractice and would be a disincentive for vendors and providers to improve EHR systems.

"Giving doctors immunity is exactly the wrong thing to be doing," attorney Cliff Rieders, a medical malpractice attorney and a board member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority told the Times Leader. "If you say to people that there is no repercussion to doing the wrong thing, you are going to encourage the wrong thing."

To learn more:
- here's the bill (.pdf)
- read the Times Leader article