Do electronic medical records decrease liability risk?

Doctors are pushed to adopt electronic medical records harder than ever before.

However, costs are often the prohibitive obstacle, and whether the current generation of EMRs improve patient care remains in question.

But what about liability? Surely, more complete, legible medical records would reduce the risk of being sued. Right?

Well, it’s not that cut and dry.

In a story from American Medical News, doubts remain as to whether EMRs reduce the risk of being sued. The biggest problem is that most EMR charts are template-driven, meaning that superfluous, and sometimes inaccurate, information often creeps into a documented patient visit.

Several lawyers acknowledge further downsides, including, “the default settings of an EMR could present fewer opportunities for physicians to add information to medical records,” and, “EMRs also could provide too much information. For example, risk could increase if the EMR generates alerts or supplementary information and physicians don’t act upon them.”

(The reference to “adding information” is, I believe, a reference to the fact that EMRs discourage free-texting, as opposed to adding information after the fact.)

Current electronic medical records have a hard time talking to one another, which is essential to realizing their potential to reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes. Until they do, the effect of EMRs on reducing medical malpractice is tepid at best.