EHRs could lower malpractice insurance costs, study says

Could adding an electronic health records system to your practice cut your malpractice insurance costs?

Could adding an electronic health records system to your practice cut your malpractice insurance costs?

Authors of a study that appeared in the Nov. 24, 2008, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine suggest that someday it might.

“If EHRs are proved to be an effective tool in minimizing tort claims and improving patient safety, insurance companies may lower malpractice premiums for practices with EHRs,” the authors of the study write.

The study, Electronic Health Records and Malpractice Claims in Office Practice,” found that physicians who used EHR systems were less likely to have paid malpractice claims than those who didn’t use EHR systems, but the authors stress that the results of the study should be considered “preliminary” and further study of the issue is needed. The authors do, however, label the study’s results “provocative.”

Among 1,140 Massachusetts physicians surveyed, just 6.1 percent of physicians with an EHR system had a history of a paid malpractice claim compared with 10.8 percent of doctors without EHR systems. Further, among the 33 percent of respondents who use EHR systems, 5.7 percent classified as “heavy users” had paid malpractice claims, while 12.1 percent of “low users” had done so.

Steven Kern, a health-care attorney with Kern Augustine Conroy & Schoppmann in Bridgewater, New Jersey, says he thinks it’s likely that in the future malpractice insurers will reduce the cost of premiums for doctors who have EHR systems. Low-quality or incomplete medical records are typically the biggest hindrance in defending doctors from malpractice claims, and EHR systems can help alleviate that problem, Kern says.

Potential reasons for the correlation between EHR system use and fewer paid malpractice claims include fewer diagnostic errors, improved follow-up of abnormal test results, better documentation, and better guideline adherence -- all factors that often result from implementing an EHR system, the study’s authors say.

If the study’s results are confirmed in future research, the federal government and other payers may have further incentive to subsidize EHR systems due to the reduction in liability costs, the authors add.