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Close Nexus: Electronic Health Records and Malpractice Litigation

A revolutionary change involving patients’ medical records has been taking place in Missouri and everywhere else across the country in recent years.

That change has been strongly endorsed — and driven — by the Obama administration, with officials and health regulators consistently stressing that the replacement of paper charts and records by submissions in an electronic format will bring greater clarity and cost savings to the health care system.

Importantly, too, they note, so-called electronic health records (EHRs) promote safer patient outcomes to a much greater extent than handwritten notations ever did.

Candidly, the jury is still out on such assessments. Although many medical facilities have made the transformation without much difficulty, administrators, doctors and other medical professionals in a number of hospitals and clinics have voiced dissatisfaction with EHR implementation across a number of fronts.

A recent focus on electronic health records and the role they are playing in malpractice litigationunderscores one especially prominent concern regarding the new technology, namely this: Reportedly, EHRs “create significant liability problems for health care providers.”

Why would that be?

According to speakers at a recent conference on health care risk, medical professionals in some instances are seeking to manipulate information in electronic records to alter reality. That is, they are changing time and date entries, falsifying data through post-event alterations, and taking additional actions in efforts to obscure negligence or wrongful conduct that resulted in patient harm.

Often, that simply does not work, with computers leaving a forensic trail of evidence that can be examined by experts.

One speaker at the above-cited conference says that EHRs are often the “single-most important piece of evidence” in malpractice cases.

Experienced plaintiffs’ malpractice attorneys know that exacting scrutiny of medical records is a critically important task in any case where medical negligence directly contributed to patient harm.

That sharply focused scrutiny is now more important than ever, given the ascendancy of EHRs and their central role in record keeping.