Clinicians Worry EHR Glitches May Leave Them Legally Vulnerable

As medical providers embrace the digitization of medical records, some clinicians worry that errors could lead to medical malpractice suits.

Thanks to initiatives like Meaningful Use that incentivize adoption, electronic health records (EHRs) have become commonplace in American hospitals and other medical facilities over the last five years. The long-term benefits of digitizing medical records are undeniable: EHRs make patient records both more accurate and more organized, and as such, clinicians have generally embraced these systems.

However, EHRs have introduced several unexpected risks alongside their welcomed benefits. Perhaps the most worrisome is the potential for liability in the case of an error or data breach. Attorneys have already begun to file malpractice suits against practitioners based on mistakes being made during the implementation of EHR systems, when the risk for errors is at its highest.

This additional liability adds a complex layer to EHR adoption across the industry, leaving medical professionals wondering whether they are liable for a glitch in their EHR system.

Navigating the Legal Waters and Mitigating Risk

In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) attempted to tackle the question of practitioner liability for data entry errors in EHRs. HIPAA specifically states that the healthcare provider — not the vendor, consultant, or system integrator — is solely responsible for maintaining the integrity of patient records. This means that regardless of whether an EHR error is found to be the fault of the user or the software design, it is the provider’s responsibility to mitigate risks and take the appropriate steps to resolve issues by either correcting the data themselves or contacting the vendor.

Physicians Practice outlines a few steps that providers should take to limit their liability when transitioning to and utilizing EHR. The first step? Selecting secure and reliable technology.

“Healthcare professionals and provider organizations can actively manage EHR-associated risks,” the NEJM advises. “First, they can decline to sign contractual provisions that immunize the system developer. Second, they can select systems that are designed to minimize the risk of user error or misuse and maximize the ease of record retrieval.”

Adapting to a New Legal Environment in Healthcare

From diagnosis to treatment, quality medical care begins with accurate patient records and clear lines of communication between physicians, nurses, and patients. Providers use EHRs to increase both the quality of care for patients and the efficiency and productivity of their staff. EHRs have ushered in a safer medical era by making records clearer and creating a more centralized means of communication for clinicians.

However, new medical technology can create new issues even as it eliminates old ones. Healthcare institutions and organizations must think critically about how both medical tech and procedures for its implementation and use can maximize workplace efficiency without creating legal vulnerabilities.

At Aventura, we make it simple to secure workstations and improve clinical workflow. Easy to implement and use, our Sympatica Suite healthcare software platform is proven to save an hour or more per clinician per shift in computer time while ensuring security compliance.

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