HealthDay News — Electronic health record (EHR) use among clinicians practicing in multiple surgical and medical specialties was associated with a six-fold reduction in malpractice claims, results of a small study indicate.

Malpractice claims dropped from 49 before EHR adoption to just two after implementation among a random sample of Massachusetts physicians included in the study, Mariah A. Quinn, MD, MPH, from Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, and colleagues reported online in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Quinn and colleagues merged closed-claims data from a major malpractice insurer in Massachusetts (Controlled Risk Insurance Company/Risk Management Foundation [CRICO/RMF]) for physicians covered from 1995 to 2007 with data from survey responses from a random sample of Massachusetts physicians in 2005 (n=275) and 2007 (n=189) to examine the association between EHR adoption and malpractice claims.

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The researchers found that 14.3% of the 189 physicians surveyed in both years were named in at least one malpractice claim. Of the 275 physicians who responded in 2005 and/or 2007, 33 physicians from multiple surgical and medical specialties incurred 51 unique claims.

Forty-nine of these claims were related to events that occurred before EHR adoption, whereas two were associated with events that occurred after EHR adoption. Using Poisson regression models, the researchers determined that EHR use correlated with a reduced rate of malpractice claims, with an estimated relative risk of 0.16 (95% CI: 0.04-0.71).

“While this study includes only a small number of post-EHR claims, it suggests that implementation of EHRs may reduce malpractice claims and, at the least, appears not to increase claims as providers adapt to using EHRs,” the researchers wrote. “The reduction in claims seen in this study among physicians who adopted EHRs lends support to the push for widespread implementation of health information technology.”

Study limitations include the potential for unmeasured factors that may have contributed to the reduction in malpractice claims, the researchers noted. For example, the study sample included a high proportion of early EHR adopters, whose practice patterns may be less likely to result in malpractice claims, or the implementation of concurrent interventions to reduce malpractice claims.

Because the study included only those physicians in Massachusetts who were affiliated with Harvard Medical School and were covered by one malpractice insurer, the results may not be generalizable to other populations. Furthermore, the study may have missed malpractice claims related to missed or delayed diagnoses associated with EHR use due to the relatively short follow-up period after implementation.

Quinn MA et al. Arch Intern Med. 2012; doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.2371.