EHR Use May Help Lower Paid Malpractice Settlements

Friday, December 12th, 2008
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Use of EHRs may help reduce paid malpractice settlements for physicians, according to a new study based at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and might ultimately lead to lowered malpractice insurance premiums for EHR users.

The study, which appeared in the November 24th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, showed a trend toward lower paid malpractice claims for physicians who are active users of EHR technology.

The study examined survey responses from 1140 practicing physicians in Massachusetts during 2005 about their demographic characteristics and the length and extent of their EHR use. These physicians’ malpractice history was accessed using publicly available data from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Board of Registration in Medicine. The study team compared the presence or absence of malpractice claims among physicians with and without EHRs, including only claims that had been settled and paid.

Overall, 6.1 percent of physicians with EHRs and 10.8 percent of physicians without them had paid malpractice settlements in the preceding 10 years. After controlling for potential confounding variables, there remained a trend favoring EHR use, although the result was not statistically significant. In a secondary analysis among EHR adopters, the authors found that 5.7 percent of more active users of their systems had paid malpractice settlements, compared with 12.1 percent of less active users. Small numbers of physicians in both groups led the authors to interpret the results with caution.

The investigators speculate that EHRs may decrease paid malpractice claims for a number of reasons. EHRs offer easy access to patients’ history, which may result in fewer diagnostic errors, improved follow-up of abnormal test results, and better adherence to clinical guidelines. In addition, the clear documentation of care allowed by EHRs can bolster legal defenses if a malpractice claim is filed.

If this link between EHR use and lower malpractice payments is confirmed in further studies, malpractice insurers may offer lower premiums for practices that use EHRs, and there would be further incentive for physicians to invest in an EHR system for their offices. The federal government could also decide to offer subsidies for EHR adoption because they have been shown to reduce healthcare costs through a decrease in medical malpractice payments.

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