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Evidence Links Electronic Records to Patient Safety Improvements

Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm appreciates that there has been widespread debate about the use of electronic medical records. On one hand, there are obvious advantages of having this vital information in a format that can be easily shared with others, updated, and saved, and checked for errors. However, some were concerned that the shift to electronic records was happening too quickly, with the potential for glitches risking patient safety.

Allowing doctors to use computers, tablets, and other devices in their work is likely a tremendous efficiency boost over paper files. Systems can be set up to automatically identify medication conflicts or allergies that might be missed by a doctor or medical professional. In addition, communication between doctors patients is much improved with medical records, which itself is an important part of proper caregiving free of errors. At the end of the day, what matters is patient safety and preventing medical malpractice. Electronic records seem to be a step in that direction, but patients cannot be hurt in the transition process.

A new report from Health Day this week discusses how the findings of a new study which highlighted the positive benefits of these records. The research is limited, but it a first step in understanding if these records are having a positive impact on patient safety right off the bat.

Specifically, the study found that medical malpractice claims dropped in Massachusetts after doctors in the state began using electronic records. One obvious caveat is that the study does not necessarily prove causation of any kind–as a there may be a third factor that influences the decline in claim rates.

Yet, the data is one indication that a shift to electronic may be a positive one in patient safety that “prevents adverse events” according to authors of the latest study. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers understand that any step that keeps more patients safe is a good one that should be embraced.

The study was published in the online edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine, and it tracked malpractice claims against a group of 275 doctors over a two year period, 2005-2007. Of the thirty three malpractice claims faced by those professionals, only two occurred after the switch to electronic records.

There are obvious limitations to the study. Doctors from only two hospitals were included. In addition, the doctors involved who switched to electronic medical records were likely “early adopters” who may have a manner of practicing medicine that is inherently less likely to lead to malpractice. In addition, there were major changes to the state’s healthcare system in 2006 which could obviously have factored into the situation.

In any event, while the study is far from conclusive about the role of electronic records in the system, it is some consolation to those who worry about a wrath of unintended consequences spawning. Patient safety has to be the most important focus for all medical providers. Considering electronic medical records have great potential in this regard, it is crucial that caregivers not drag their feet in enacting changes necessary to make the switch safe and efficient.

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