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Transition to Electronic Medical Records Could Increase Medical Malpractice Suits

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that while having electronic medical records could improve care, the transition may be difficult for some patients. When systems were complex or newly adopted, the quality of care decreased.

The researchers conducted a cohort study using data on hospital electronic health record (EHR) systems from 2003 and 2005, as well as publicly reported quality data from 2004 and 2007. When a basic EHR system was available, they found a 2.6 percent improvement in the quality of care with patients with heart failure, but hospitals trying to adopt advanced EHR systems saw a one percent drop in quality for acute heart attack and a three percent decrease in care for heart failure patients.

Hospitals that were in the process of upgrading its EHR systems to more advanced ones, saw a 1.2 percent decrease in the quality of care for heart attack patients, and a 2.8 percent decrease in quality of care in heart failure patients.

Researchers found that hospitals that already had EHR systems in place appeared to perform better which could account for some of the findings. However, the researchers noted that measuring the success of such systems was problematic, and that better means of assessing how well the systems were performing needs to be developed.

EHR systems are comprised of patient electronic medical records. These records include: patient demographics, patient medical history, patient medications and allergies, and laboratory test results. Also, nurses and physicians can view any radiology images and vital signs that might be associated with a particular patient.

Savings of using EHR systems as opposed to standard paper systems is estimated to be $23 billion per year for Medicare and $31 billion per year for private insurance companies. Electronic medical records could also help promote evidence-based medicine and increase record keeping and mobility. Also, some aspects of quality of care could be improved. For example, using EHR systems could reduce medical errors.

However, EHR systems are very pricey; most systems cost between $500 and $6,000 per physician. However, one of the reasons Americans pay so much for health care is because of the high administrative costs associated with using standard, paper systems, so switching to EHR systems could save money in the long-run. Learning the new system can be time-consuming; many physicians feel that adopting a new EHR system actually reduces clinical productivity.

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