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Will electronic health records reduce medical malpractice?

More and more hospitals and clinics are turning to electronic health records as a way to retain patient health history and information. Will these records help keep patients safe and prevent medical malpractice in Michigan?

A recent article in the American Medical News discussed how doctors felt about these devices. Their opinions shed light on the benefits and drawbacks for patients.

Positives of electronic health records

Documentation: First, doctors noted that the EHRs allow them to thoroughly document exams, including providing a complete record of those exams. Thorough documentation means better medical care and, hopefully, fewer medical errors.

Easier to retrieve data: EHRs also make it simpler for physicians to access information. Gone are the days of long paper trails and the inaccuracies that arise from them. Instead, a doctor can use a simple query to find information. According to one doctor, this is "huge ... from a patient safety standpoint." Doctors can now see what other providers have done for a patient and act quickly on that knowledge.

Negatives of electronic health records

Data can be difficult to find: While it is possible to query information using EHRs, it may also be more difficult for doctors to find one piece of information than with paper charts. This is because today's doctors have been trained to use the paper charts and know what pages contain what information. With the vast amount of information provided on an EHR, it may take longer for doctors to find the exact piece of information they need.

Changes in physician-patient relationship: Many doctors type information into an EHR while speaking with patients, which gives the exam room the feel of an interview instead of a conversation between doctors and patients. This may have a negative impact on doctor-patient communication, which can lead to medical errors.

Whether or not EHRs will reduce medical malpractice has yet to be seen. Relying on computers can be difficult, especially if the computer system malfunctions during a vital time. However, having all of the information on a patient available via the touch of a few keyboard buttons may prevent medical errors such as medication errors, surgical errors and misdiagnosis.

Source: American Medical News, "Doctors' love-hate relationship with EHRs," Pamela Lewis Dolan, May 7, 2012.

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