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Do electronic medical records lead to fewer medical errors?

In recent years, some hospitals and doctors have been making changes in regards to medical records. Specifically, some doctors and hospitals have stopped using traditional paper records and instead have switched to using electronic medical records.

Proponents of electronic records claim that such records could help reduce the occurrence of medical errors (such as medication errors). Medication errors and other medical errors can be very harmful to patients and can have significant impacts on their lives. Thus, the question of whether or not electronic medical records can, in fact, reduce medical errors is an important one to look at when considering whether the transition to electronic medical records is a good thing for patients.

Recently, a study was conducted which yielded results that appear to provide some support to the idea that electronic medical records could lead to a reduction in medical errors.

The study was conducted by researchers in Massachusetts. In the study, the researchers looked at a group of Massachusetts doctors who had participated in surveys regarding the adoption of electronic medical records. The researchers then compared the data from the surveys regarding if/when doctors had switched to using electronic medical records to data on malpractice claims regarding the doctors.

Based on the results from this comparison, the researchers reportedly estimate that doctors who switched to electronic medical records saw about an 84 percent drop in the likelihood that a medical malpractice claim would be brought against them. Such a reduction in the likelihood of malpractice claims could perhaps be indicative of a reduction in the occurrence of medical errors.

The study's researchers cautioned that the study's results don't necessarily mean that the adoption of electronic records caused this reduction in claims, as other factors could potentially be at play. Thus, it will be interesting to see if any future studies are conducted on this topic and if such studies yield more conclusive results on whether electronic medical records lead to a reduction in medical errors and malpractice claims.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "E-Records Linked to Fewer Malpractice Claims," Randy Dotinga, June 25, 2012

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