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Five ways to avert a malpractice lawsuit with better EHR techniques


Although most physicians have gotten used to working with EHRs, despite their irritations, the use of EHRs has contributed to a growing number of malpractice lawsuits. Defense attorneys say that doctors need to be increasingly careful of their EHR interactions in order to protect their patients – and themselves – against legal action.

According to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety, more than 30% of all EHR-related malpractice cases are associated with medication errors; 28% with diagnosis; and 31% with a complication of treatment, such as entering wrong information, entering information in the wrong place, and overlooking EHR flags and warnings for interactions or contraindications.

The study gave these examples of EHR-related errors that led to patient harm and ultimately to malpractice lawsuits:

  • A discharge order omitted a patient’s medication that prevented strokes; the patient had a stroke days later.
  • An electronic order for morphine failed to state the upper dose limit; the patient died.
  • A physician meant to click on “discontinue” for an anticoagulant but mistakenly clicked on “continue” for home use.

Catching potential issues such as drug interactions or critical medical history that should inform treatment is more important than ever. “We know from safety engineering principles that just relying on vigilance is not a long-term safety strategy,” says Aaron Zach Hettinger, MD, chief research information officer at MedStar Health Research Institute, Washington, D.C. “So, it’s critical that we design these safe systems and leverage the data that’s in them.”

Here are five smart EHR practices to help protect your patients’ health and your own liability.

1. Double-check dropdown boxes

When it comes to user error, it’s easy to click the wrong choice from a drop-down menu. Better to take the time to explain your answer in a box, even if it takes a few more minutes. Or if you are choosing from a menu, proofread any information it auto-fills in the chart.

Dr. Hettinger says you can strike a balance between these templated approaches to diagnosis and long-term care by working with third-party systems and your organization or vendor IT department to help with follow-up questions to keep populated data in check.

“Make sure you have a back-end system that can help monitor that structured data,” says Dr. Hettinger. Structured data are the patient’s demographic information, like name, address, age, height, weight, vital signs, and data elements like diagnosis, medications, and lab results. “Wherever you can leverage the underlying tools that are part of the electronic health record to make sure that we’re constantly checking the right results, that helps reduce the workload so that clinicians can focus on taking care of the patients and doing the right thing and not be as focused on entering data into the system.”

2. Supplement EHR notes with direct communication

The failure to diagnose cancer because one physician doesn’t know what another physician saw in an imaging report is one of the most common claims in the cases he tries, says Aaron Boeder, a plaintiff’s medical negligence lawyer in Chicago.


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