Friday, February 28, 2014

Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare: "Malpractice Claims Analysis Confirms Risks in EHRs"

Two "EHR beneficence is not exactly as advertised" stories in one day.  It's hard to keep up:

After my earlier post today "EHRs: The Real Story" - Sobering assessment from Medical Economics, now there's this.

From the journal "Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare" (PSQH):

Malpractice Claims Analysis Confirms Risks in EHRs
Jan/Feb 2014

Article available at this link.

[Short header on several EHR-related care foul ups]

... Distressing situations like those described above are happening around the country as healthcare organizations adopt electronic health records (EHRs) in growing numbers. Although these systems promise to reduce costs and improve quality and safety, they’ve also ushered in unintended consequences as a result of human error, design flaws, and technology glitches.

Recognizing these emerging risks, CRICO—the patient safety and medical malpractice insurer for the Harvard medical community— is taking action. The Massachusetts-based company has expanded its proprietary coding system to capture EHR-related problems that have contributed to patient harm, and to guide the hospitals, physicians, and other providers it serves toward addressing vulnerabilities in their systems.

I had previously written about another Med Mal insurer who had noted these problems at

... CRICO recently analyzed a year’s worth of medical malpractice claims in its comparative database and found 147 cases in which EHRs were a contributing factor. Computer systems that don’t “talk” to each other, test results that aren’t routed properly, and mistakes caused by faulty data entry or copying and pasting were among the EHR-related problems found in the claims, which represented $61 million in direct payments and legal expenses.

The article notes this:

... Half of the 147 cases resulted in severe injury.

Patient deaths were a likely result, too, I note.

Note that this is just one insurer's data and assuming a good number of them were local to Massachusetts, could represent a significant percentage of the annual medical malpractice lawsuits in the state (Pennsylvania, a much larger state, has about 1500 med mal lawsuits filed annually). 

Note also that most cases of harm never make it to litigation due to the harsh economics of medical malpractice.

Numbers such as this will be going up as implementation, driven by HITECH incentives and penalties, accelerates in coming years.  This is especially true as medical centers and physician practices with far less clinical IT expertise and savvy than Harvard's become HIT users, and as the ability to capture such events increases.

The ECRI Institute "Deep Dive" study of health IT risk also speaks to a rise in numbers, with its finding of 171 health IT "events" in just 36 hospitals over 9 weeks voluntarily reported (i.e., just a fraction of the total), with 8 injuries and 3 possible deaths as a result (

... The team asked its CRICO and Strategies members, “What vulnerabilities are you seeing? What are your risk managers worried about? What are your doctors complaining about?”

It used that feedback to draft a set of EHR-specific codes and then tested them in three datasets: CRICO (Harvard users) and two of Strategies’ larger clients, !e Doctors Company and Princeton Insurance. Based on those results, CRICO revised and approved 15 new EHR codes that went “live” in January 2013.

That means CRICO’s cadre of nurse coders can now identify EHR as a contributing factor to a malpractice claim, instead of using one of the less specific factors available in the past. [It's about time for a dose of transparency in the health IT sector - ed.]  And they can flag whether the problem involved user issues, system/technology issues, or both. “In some cases,” Sato points out, “the system design sets up humans to make errors.”

This should all be no surprise to any reader of this blog.  Read the whole article.

A more comprehensive list of "EHR harm modes" are at my posts "Internal FDA memorandum of Feb. 23, 2010 to Jeffrey Shuren on HIT risks. Smoking gun? I report, you decide" ( and "Cart Before the Horse, Part 3: AHRQ's Health IT Hazard Manager" (

The actual Hazards Manager report is at It contains this summary of known hazards:

AHRQ's taxonomy of health IT hazards.  Click to enlarge.


Having written on these issues since 1998 as a "health IT iconoclast" ( and having been largely ignored by the cognoscenti, can I now say "I told you so?"

-- SS


Anonymous said...

I like the picture of the cart before the horse. I laugh every time I see it.

Unfortunately, the HIT scandal is rooted in this approach to radically altering the provision of medical care.

The vendors must be sued.

However, the Congress has bills on its books to protect the vendors.

Steve Lucas said...

There is one EHR that is compatible with all systems, will not crash, is low cost and is in use at this hospital:

As a famous frog once said: ’It is hard to be green.”

Steve Lucas