Is Your Electronic Health Record a Malpractice Risk?

Written by Sarah Lim, CA Lic# 0M52397


A plan to introduce electronic health records (EHRs) across the country was started in 2004 by President George W. Bush to “avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care.”  The main reason for the EHR adoption was to avoid medical errors which is a huge reason for medical malpractice claims, but in actuality the number of medical liability claims has actually risen with the EHR as a contributing factor.  A research report by The Doctors Company in 2017 showed that the number of EHR-related claims grew from only 2 claims between 2007 – 2010 to 92 claims between 2014-2016. 


As with any new technology, there may be bugs but more critical is the possibility of the users making errors.  If a doctor is not trained well on the EHR system, unintentional mistakes can be made.  A 2015 study found that most EHR-related errors involved medications, diagnoses, or treatment complications in ambulatory care settings like surgical centers, outpatient departments, or physicians’ offices.  The most shocking is that 80% of these claims involved moderate or severe harm to the patient.  What seems to happen most often is that there is a failure to input or access information that is critical to the patient’s health.  This pertinent information is therefore not communicated to another involved medical provider thus resulting in something bad happening. 


Even doctors with the best EHR systems could be at risk of unintended consequences due to technical glitches, bugs or viruses, or if they are not updated correctly.  Although technology-related cases are uncommon, there can be system errors like fragmented EHR’s where key sections of the patient’s record are not located together, technology failures, and electronic data routing issues.  These systems are meant to be user-friendly but more often than not, important information is not being inputted correctly because there is so much to keep track of for so many patients. 

Because there are different ways errors can be made using an EHR, it is critical to see when, where, and how these errors are being made by users.  One reason for errors involving incorrectly inputted data or failure to enter critical data can be because of the lack of standard interfaces for EHR systems.  Another reason could be that doctors often use multiple systems across the different facilities they work at so it can be difficult to know where information should be entered or accessed.   

Studies are showing that there is an actual connection between EHR usage and increased physician burnout.  These increasing creates a more taxing and stressful workload which results in feelings of frustration.  These feelings can draw the doctors’ attention away from documenting and assessing important patient information. 

One way to help manage user errors is to implement the use of EHR systems that offer auto-population features which can automatically fill in data fields when a record is completed.  There are other options where customized templates can be used for different portions of the patient’s records.  Physicians often make up their own short-cuts, skip certain fields, or just simply copy and paste to move information around.  This however is risky and can increase the chances of more EHR related errors. 

All in all, EHR’s can be a way to save time and help reduce errors but the healthcare organizations also need to do their part in adopting strategies to reduce the chances of future malpractice claims related to EHR’s.