Electronic Medical Records Can Frustrate Doctors and Threaten Patients

When it comes to medical malpractice, doctors are concerned about something the rest of us haven’t thought much about -the use of electronic medical records.

Writing on Medscape.com, Neil Chesanow, senior editor of the site geared toward health care practitioners, explains how a doctor can be sued if his or her medical records compromise patient safety or confidentiality.

As we’ve written, although mistakes happen and some need to be corrected through legal means, the single best way a doctor can avoid being sued is to make the doctor-patient relationship a priority of care.

That means communicating often, and with respect. Studies have shown that health-care providers who admit their mistakes, and apologize, are less likely to be sued. This seems especially so in terms of record-keeping.

Being compensated for having been medically harmed isn’t about vengeance, it’s about rightful redress of grievances. And people who have strong relationships are much less likely to be aggrieved about mistakes of minimal consequence.

A lot of Medscape’s professional readers say that electronic health records (EHRs) are time-consuming and make patient visits longer. Many try to streamline their use, and in the process leave themselves vulnerable to malpractice lawsuits.

“Even if your EHR has a bug or design flaw,” Chesanow writes, “it’s up to you to contact the vendor to get it fixed. Otherwise, if a patient is harmed as a result of the glitch, you may bear the blame in court. That’s what the vendor contract you signed essentially says: The buck stops with you.”

Here are some ways physicians might try to make EHRs more efficient but that could put you at risk:

  • copying and pasting large pieces of text from one record to another
  • sharing a single password with several staffers in the practice
  • ignoring pop-up support prompts

Asking your doctor about these habits can be difficult; it can make him or her defensive. Practitioners are frustrated by the demands of insurance paperwork and medical facility administration; many feel like they’re forced to use a certain system, then held liable when it doesn’t work. Like everybody else, they get irritated by the idiotic demands by faceless corporations and technology that doesn’t work as it’s supposed to.

Here’s how one doctors expressed his frustration. “The software engineers employed by my office’s EHR vendor are arrogant, unresponsive to my requests, and write a simple sentence so poorly that their emails are unintelligible. I am dismissed as a nuisance by the vendor because I don’t have any financial authority over the EHR. From a malpractice standpoint, I feel my only options are to quit or keep a record of my complaints and how they have been ignored by the vendor.”

So when you ask about how your records are kept, be sympathetic to their plight – a doctor who sees you as a partner instead of a difficult busybody is more likely to tell you what you need to know, and to protect your interests.

“The best doctors were the country doctors,” one provider told Medscape. “Doctor to patient – not doctor to computer gizmos, and somewhere in this hole of technology is the patient. Could you throw me a rope, please?”

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