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Errors in Electronic Health Records

DoctorMore and more, doctors and hospitals are eschewing antiquated handwritten systems of records in favor of electronic databases. They cite neatness, taking up less space, and countless other reasons for why the switch is a good one. However, electronic health records (EHRs) are not without their problems, not least of all that one slip of the finger can cause serious problems for patients.

Electronic Health Records and Human Error

EHRs are a fairly recent innovation, only beginning to appear in mass quantities within the last decade or so, after a government incentive program was put in place. California began to enforce EHR regulations in earnest in 2009, after the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. They obviously have many advantages when compared to handwritten records: they are stored in a central location, negating the need for multiple file storage rooms; they all tend to follow the same protocol, and they are often more accessible for all involved, in terms of readability. The system, however, is far from perfect.

Like any technology, EHRs may contain errors, and sometimes they actually facilitate the commission of errors - for example, a machine may read handwriting on a prescription or previous record incorrectly, leading to medication being dispensed in the wrong amount. EHRs also sometimes give certain medical professionals a feeling of omniscience; that is, they may think the record can never be wrong, because it is electronic and easy to update. While EHRs have been shown to make some medical care safer, the final word is inconclusive, and several medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed around the country that deal with EHRs.

How EHRs Can Lead to Malpractice

There are a myriad of ways in which EHRs can play a role in medical malpractice. Many of them are based on the unfortunate tendency of medical professionals to misinterpret each other - a flaw that may be related to simply needing time to adapt to the new technology. For example, a recent case involved an Illinois woman who stabbed herself with a rusty garden tool. A nurse clicked an incorrect box on her EHR, and the physician in charge did not administer a tetanus shot, though one proved necessary. As a result, the woman later died, leading to a wrongful death lawsuit.

A doctor, as always, has a duty of care toward their patient, and while it may seem as though record-keeping is tangential (at best) to actual patient care, a review of the patient's medical record is the first step for most doctors and nurses in determining what care should be. A failure to read an EHR correctly, for example, or a failure to input the correct data, is a breach of the duty of care, because a reasonable doctor would properly complete the patient record. If a doctor’s conduct does not conform to the prevailing or reasonable standard of care, it is likely to be deemed malpractice.

A Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help

Electronic health records are becoming more commonplace, but even the most commonplace of technologies still leads to errors at times. The knowledgeable San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at the firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. will help walk you through the process of mounting a claim, and answer any questions you might have along the way. Contact us today at (408) 289-1417 to schedule a free consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Monterey, Alameda, San Benito, Santa Clara, and San Mateo.

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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.