E-health flaws could increase legal liability

Two professors warn that the use of electronic health record systems could leave health care providers vulnerable to malpractice charges if those systems have software bugs or are used incorrectly.

It's well known that people have concerns about the security and privacy of electronic health records . But two Case Western Reserve University professors say the systems could also increase liability risks for health care providers because of possible software defects or user errors.

The professors -- Sharona Hoffman and her husband, Andy Podgurski -- have previously called for federal regulatory oversight of electronic health record systems. In their latest article, published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, they contend that health care providers could face malpractice claims and lawsuits if their systems contain software bugs or are too complicated, or if training for users is insufficient.

" If a computer problem causes an error in somebody's drug prescription, medication dosage or surgical procedure, that can be catastrophic," Hoffman said in a statement released by the university last month.

Whether or not there is a software bug, Podgurski added, "the usability of the system may be lacking, and that may lead a user to make mistakes that have safety implications."

The authors also note that system purchasers may never know about product flaws, because no regulation requires the disclosure of such problems and some vendor contracts even prohibit it.

Read more about health care in Computerworld's Health Care Topic Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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