EMRs And Malpractice Liability: Some Questions

Posted on February 19, 2011 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

If things go as planned,  EMRs will prevent a multitude of medical errors from happening.  They’ll make sure patients don’t get the wrong drug or dose, help avoid interactions, alert clinical staff to key issues that emerge in real time from monitoring devices and more.  The sky is pretty much the limit here.

The thing is, who will be judged responsible when something goes wrong — and it’s the EMR’s “fault”?  For example:

*  What if the EMR somehow sends along data on the wrong patient (a possibility given the massive amount of systems integration issues involved in presenting the data)?  If the patient is harmed, is the doctor liable?

*  If a doctor doesn’t  fully understand the EMR interface, and records that a patient who’s violently allergic to a drug is not, who’s responsible if the patient gets that drug?  The doctor? The intern who relies on that record? The specialist called in to consult on the case and gets bad information? No one?

* What if a physician fully documents a patient’s status, correctly, but somehow the record gets altered by another user — and a patient  is harmed?  Is the second user responsible?  The IT department? The doctor?

These aren’t trivial questions, but I’m betting med mal insurers haven’t a clue how to handle them, much less physicians. I’m fully  expecting the first big malpractice case involving an EMR to surface shortly.   It’ll be a nightmare.