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EHRs may reduce medical liability risk, study shows

Further research could encourage more liability carriers to lower premiums for physicians who adopt the technology, the study's authors say.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted Jan. 15, 2009

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In addition to health care quality and safety improvements, physicians may have an added incentive to invest in electronic health records: reduced medical liability risk and costs.

Doctors who used the technology were found to have fewer incidences of paid medical liability claims or settlements, according to a survey of 1,140 Massachusetts physicians published in the Nov. 24, 2008, Archives of Internal Medicine. The report was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.

The analysis found that 6.1% of doctors who used EHRs had paid liability claims, compared with 10.8% of physicians who paid claims but did not use electronic records. In addition, 5.7% of doctors who more actively employed such systems reported a closed claim, compared with 12.1% who used EHRs less frequently.

Researchers suggested that the systems may help doctors cut liability exposure by decreasing adverse events in several ways. For example, EHR adoption could lead to fewer diagnostic errors, improved follow-up and patient communication, and better guideline adherence. Clearer documentation of a patient's medical history through electronic records may facilitate a stronger defense of medical liability claims.

Further studies confirming the effectiveness of EHRs could prompt more medical liability insurance carriers to lower premiums for physicians who adopt the technology, authors said.

At least one Massachusetts carrier -- Connecticut Medical Insurance Co. -- began offering such discounts in 2007 as part of a collaborative effort with the Massachusetts Medical Society and Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative. Eligible doctors using approved EHRs can get a 5% premium discount under the program.

"Practices with EHRs are going to enjoy a certain level of risk management that practices without [electronic records] aren't going to have," said Jack King, president of the Physicians Insurance Agency of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of the state medical society.

Report authors added that such incentives could spur more doctors to invest in EHRs or prod the government to subsidize the efforts.

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