Providers: Don't concede that EHR error lawsuits are inevitable

I find it intriguing that the American Medical Informatics Association published a position paper outlining ways to reduce errors in electronic health records a little more than a week before American Medical News published an article about how poor use of an EHRs "copy-and-paste" function, which the article calls "sloppy and paste," can create errors in the EHR. AMIA's paper also was published directly on the heels of a blog post by cardiologist Westby Fisher--aka, DrWes--who expresses concern that EHRs may subject patients to new safety risks since they haven't received sufficient scrutiny.

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But there does seem to be a heightened awareness of the concern that EHR errors are on the rise.

Just ask those in the trenches--the physicians. One physician, a respected general practitioner, recently told me that every EHR has errors in it. She went on to give a myriad of examples, from copy-and-paste errors to lab results that ended up with the wrong date after being electronically transferred from one EHR to another. Some of the mistakes resulted from simple inputting errors. All appeared to be innocent mistakes.

Doctors weren't trained to be typists, she pointed out.

But if errors are increasing, so, too, will adverse events that cause patient harm. Such events, no doubt, will increase awareness within the legal community of this growing problem, if they haven't already because, let's face it, even the most innocent mistakes can come back to haunt.

To that end, my physician friend predicted that plaintiffs' attorneys will have a field day.

Most people, myself included, are not in favor of attorneys feeding off an EHR-error frenzy and reaping financial gain as a result of innocent mistakes. But like it or not, that's going to occur if the number of "adverse incidents" continues to rise unchecked and patients continue to be harmed.

There will be more EHR-related malpractice litigation. Attorneys increasingly will use electronic discovery to find those errors--they're hard to hide, with all of those EHR audit trails. It will be standard operating procedure for lawyers to go trawling through the records because of the probability that they'll hit pay dirt and find some EHR error, and throw the whole record into question.

I think we'd all prefer to not go through that process.

AMIA took a policy-oriented, global approach to solving the problem, calling for better EHR design and reporting of EHR-related adverse events, among other steps, to improve patient safety. The amednews article also offered tips on how to avoid copy-and-paste errors, such as carefully reviewing notes and providing attribution to notes of another.

Providers should do their best to heed the advice doled out by AMIA and others to avoid patient harm up front and head off some of those lawsuits. While that might sound simplistic, it's better than conceding that such lawsuits are inevitable. - Marla (@FierceHealthIT)

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