Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reducing Malpractice Settlements

A new study shows that using EHRs may help to reduce paid malpractice settlements for physicians. Results from a study appearing in the November 24th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, show a trend toward lower paid malpractice claims for physicians who are active users of EHR technology. The study based at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was funded by AHRQ and the Massachusetts e-Health Collaborative.

The study examined survey responses from 1140 practicing physicians in Massachusetts during 2005 and looked at their demographic characteristics and the length and extent of their EHR use. The physicians’ malpractice history was then accessed using data available 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% of physicians with EHRs and 10.8% of physicians without EHRs had paid malpractice settlements in the preceding ten years. It was found that 5.7% of more active users of their systems had paid malpractice settlements, as compared with 12.1% of less active users.

The investigators speculate that EHRs may decrease paid malpractice claims for a number of reasons. EHRs offer easy access to patient histories 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 care available by using EHRs can bolster legal defenses if a malpractice claim is filed.

If the link between EHR use and lower malpractice payments is confirmed in further studies, malpractice insurers may offer lower premiums for practices that use EHRs. The Federal government might also decide to offer subsidies for EHR adoptions if it is shown that healthcare costs are reduced due to a decrease in medical malpractice payments.