Technology as a Safeguard against Medical Malpractice Claims.

A growing chorus of health care industry experts, physicians’ groups, politicians and medical malpractice insurance carriers are urging doctors to adopt new technologies to reduce the likelihood and costs associated with medical malpractice. Most of this focus has been on electronic prescribing, medical practice management software and electronic medical records.

Electronic Prescribing

Sloppily written prescriptions cause more than 7,000 deaths and 1.5 million injuries each year, according to a report issued last summer by the National Academy of Sciences. Many of these errors result from difficult to read abbreviations and dosage indications, imperceptible decimal points or misinterpretations of drug names (e.g., “heparin” as opposed to “hespan”).

Many states have recognized the importance of prescription legibility and have responded by revising prescription laws. For example, in 2003, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that explicitly states that every drug prescription “issued by a health care practitioner licensed by law to prescribe such drug must be legibly printed or typed so as to be capable of being understood by the pharmacist filling the prescription.” See, Florida Regulation Of Professions And Occupations Code Section 456.42.

In addition to eliminating mistakes caused by sloppiness, electronic prescribing technology (also known as a computerized physician order entry system or CPOE) typically includes a menu of medications from the formulary including a range of potential doses and the standard dose. Likewise, most CPOEs automatically check for drug-drug interactions and drug-allergy contradictions.

In spite of the legal, professional and commonsense rationales supporting electronic prescribing, the overwhelming majority of the estimated 3.3 billion prescriptions written each year are written by hand, rather than electronically; a reality that is mystifying to many of those in the industry who understand and have adopted electronic prescription technology.

For a very minimal cost, providers can acquire electronic prescription technology that simplifies the process of writing prescriptions. In fact, some vendors and health care partners offer this service at no additional charge and as a value added service to providers.

In view of the lifesaving importance of electronic prescription technology and its ability to inexpensively increase efficiency and decrease the possibility of medical malpractice claims, providers should give serious consideration to the electronic prescribing.

Practice Management Software

Many busy and successful practices do not appropriately calendar and track key information that is critical to the wellbeing of its patients. This administrative breakdown can cause a practice to become a contributing factor in a preventable tragedy when a specialist fails to provide the office with a report, the lab is slow in forwarding results or a patient fails to appear for a important visit. While the root cause of these calamities is the negligence of a third-party, an unwary physician may be culpable if he or she fails to detect the problem.

Some medical offices have successfully employed a comprehensive paper tracking system; however, the weaknesses inherent in a paper tracking system are obvious. Therefore, many other offices instead adopted simple technology (such as practice management software) can provide efficient office management assistance.

While the choice of a particular system is yours to make, it is very risky not to have any practice management and tracking system.

Electronic Medical Records

By now, most providers are quite familiar with electronic medical records software (often called “EMR” or “EHR”).

By all accounts, the use of an EMR can substantially increase efficiency, enhance patient care, reduce per capita healthcare spending and promote continuity of care.

A less frequently considered advantage of an EMR is its ability to safeguard a provider against malpractice claims. An EMR offers this advantage by systematizing and clarifying patient encounter notes, prompting providers to pursue certain lines of inquiry and creating a system of checks and balances.

EMRs offer significant benefits and safeguards to health care providers and every office should give serious consideration to the use of a quality EMR to reduce the risk of malpractice.

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