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Electronic Medical Records and Liability

A recent post on the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog reported on an interview with a professor of law and bioethics who believes that electronic medical records will bring on a whole host of liability issues for medical practitioners. Sharona Hoffman writes in “E-Health Hazards: Provider Liability and Electronic Record Systems,” which appears in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, that while “the potential benefits of computerization are considerable,” digitized medical systems also “may bring novel responsibilities, burdens and complexities for medical practices,” including a whole new rash of medical malpractice worries.

Some of these worries are legitimate, such as possible “bugs” in software systems which may affect computerized prescriptions or physician orders. Although actual examples of these seem to be hard to find.

Others, on the other hand, sound a little dramatic: “Some systems are so complicated they actually hinder the ability of the doctor [to care for the patient]. Doctors have only about 15 minutes per patient, and more of that time may be spent trying to fiddle with the computer — it can take time away from patient interaction.”

Needless to say, most physicians are bright people. We would expect that they would get a little training before they unleash any device on a patient, whether it is a medical instrument or an EMR system. Professor Hoffman says, “They need to be getting trained if they have an electronic health record system — saying ‘I have a computer so I can figure it out’ [doesn’t work]”. This sounds a little bit patronizing. Then again, we all know colleagues who have used something without reading the manual first.

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