EHR use may reduce malpractice claims

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The rate of malpractice claims when EHRs were used was about one-sixth the rate when EHRs were not used, according to the results of a survey of physicians published online this month in the  Archives of Internal Medicine.

The previous research of Mariah A. Quinn, MD, MPH, department of internal medicine at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, and colleagues showed a lower rate of paid claims among Massachusetts physicians using EHRs; a study limited by imprecision in the temporal relationship between EHR adoption and paid malpractice claims.

Available data at the time did not differentiate whether the actual rate of claims was reduced among EHR-using physicians or whether the reduction was attributable to proportionately fewer claims leading to payment. “Therefore, we undertook this follow-up study,” the authors wrote.

The researchers merged closed-claims data from a major malpractice insurer in Massachusetts for physicians covered from 1995 to 2007 with data from surveys administered to a random sample of Massachusetts physicians in 2005 and 2007 (response rates, 71 percent and 79 percent, respectively), comprising a final sample of 275 and 189 physicians, respectively.

Of the 189 physicians surveyed in both 2005 and 2007, a total of 14.3 percent were named in at least one malpractice claim, Quinn et al found. “Overall, 33 of the 275 physicians from multiple surgical and medical specialties who responded in 2005 and/or 2007 incurred a total of 51 unique claims; 49 of these claims were related to events occurring before EHR adoption, and two were related to events occurring after EHR adoption.”

The authors noted that generalizability may be limited as participants included only those physicians in Massachusetts who were affiliated with Harvard Medical School in Boston, and who were covered by one malpractice insurer. “The short period after EHR adoption may have limited our ability to ascertain whether claims that are more delayed are affected by the use of EHRs,” they wrote.

“While this study includes only a small number of post-EHR claims, it suggests that implementation of EHRs may reduce malpractice claims and, at the least, appears not to increase claims as providers adapt to using EHRs,” the authors concluded. “The reduction in claims seen in this study among physicians who adopted EHRs lends support to the push for widespread implementation of health IT.”