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Failure for a doctor to uphold the standard of care can result in a medical malpractice claim. On the doctor’s behalf, not providing adequate care or treatment can result from inaccurate or incomplete medical records, with medications, laboratory test results, or other pertinent information missing. Electronic medical records, according to a recent study, increase organization, offer doctors, regardless of location, a fuller picture of a patient’s history, and could ultimately create fewer medical malpractice claims.

The Massachusetts study, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, involved a survey of 275 doctors from 2005 and 2007, and all that responded were asked if and when they began using electronic medical records. The researchers compared the group of doctors’ number of medical malpractice claims, going back to 1995. 33 percent of this group had been sued, but the number of cases drastically dropped when electronic medical record systems were implemented: 49 claims before, with 13 resulting in payment, and two, both with no payment, after.

Currently, one-third of U.S. healthcare practices have electronic medical records in place. For the patient, the most vulnerable to medical malpractice, what benefits do electronic medical records have on treatment?

First, understand how medical records have evolved. For years, manila folders with paper documents were the standard form of medical records. All paper files were physically kept at a healthcare location – essentially, every office, hospital, or emergency room a patient visited. The result was incomplete information with greater potential to get lost, misfiled, damaged, or destroyed over time. The doctor, in attempting to provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, does not have complete information.

Electronic medical records, or EMRs, can essentially be updated and accessed by any healthcare provider from nearly any location. Because of this improved accessibility, doctors have a more comprehensive history for each individual and, in being able to see past treatments, laboratory results, and current medications, can avoid dangerous drug interactions or unnecessary or inaccurate procedures. Multiple physicians have access to each others’ notes for a single individual.

But, while the study shows that EMRs can reduce poor communication between healthcare providers, improve accessibility to patient records, lessen incidents of unsafe prescribing, and result in better adherence to clinical guidelines, article “Electronic Medical Records: A Prescription for Increased Medical Malpractice Liability?” from Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law comes to different conclusions, not necessarily disproving the recent Massachusetts study but, rather, indicating that EMRs have their own complications that may expose healthcare providers to medical malpractice lawsuits.

In exposing these repercussions, the Vanderbilt Journal piece addresses the following points: healthcare providers, as a result of implementing an EMR, are held to a higher standard of care and are exposed to greater liabilities for failing to spot part of a patient’s medical history through electronic records; not all information may be entered into an EMR system; patient data could be incorrectly filed by a physician or laboratory facility into a patient’s file; and, because past physicians are held responsible for entering records, third-party negligence lawsuits have greater potential to occur.