While the electronic medical record (EMR) has advantages, it also has introduced liability risks. EMRs can lead to lawsuits or result in a weak defense by casting the physician in an unfavorable light.
EMRs can increase malpractice risk in documentation of clinical findings—copying and pasting previously entered information can perpetuate any prior mistakes or fail to document a changing clinical situation.1 In a study by The Doctors Company of 97 EMR-related closed claims from 2007 to 2014, 13 percent of cases involved prepopulating/copy-and-paste as a contributing factor.2 Copy-and-paste is a necessary evil to save time during documentation of daily notes, but whatever is pasted must also be edited to reflect the current situation. Too often the note makes reference to something that happened “yesterday.”
Checkboxes, particularly those that prepopulate, can be a physician’s nemesis. EMRs have been presented in court that show, through checkboxes, daily breast exams on comatose patients in the ICU, detailed daily neurological exams done by cardiologists, and a complete review of systems done by multiple treating physicians on comatose patients. Questioning in court as to how long it takes to do a review of systems and a physical examination, the patient load of the physician for that day, and how many hours the physician was at work cast doubt on the truthfulness of the testifying physician. A time analysis showed there was no way the physician could have accomplished all that was charted that day, leading to the loss of credibility of that physician in court.
The Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily ran a fascinating excerpt from the Steve Jacob’s book So Long, Marcus Welby, M.D.* The excerpt contained some very interesting assertions and statistics. For example:
- Consultant PwC, relying on that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, estimated that malpractice insurance and defensive medicine accounted for 10 percent of total health-care costs. A 2010 Health Affairs article more conservatively pegged those costs at 2.4 percent of healthcare spending.
- In a 2010 survey, U.S. orthopedic surgeons bluntly admitted that about 30 percent of tests and referrals were medically unnecessary and done to reduce physician vulnerability to lawsuits.
- A 2011 analysis by the American Medical Association found that the average amount to defend a lawsuit in 2010 was $47,158, compared with $28,981 in 2001. The average cost to pay a medical liability claim—whether it was a settlement, jury award or some other disposition—was $331,947, compared with $297,682 in 2001.
- Doctors spend significant time fighting lawsuits, regardless of outcome. The average litigated claim lingered for 25 months. Doctors spent 20 months defending cases that were ultimately dismissed, while claims going to trial took 39 months. Doctors who were victorious in court spent an average of 44 months in litigation.
- A study in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that by age 65 about 75 percent of physicians in low-risk specialties have been the target of at least one lawsuit, compared with about 99 percent of those in high-risk specialties.
- According to Brian Atchinson, president of the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), 70 percent of legal claims do not result in payments to patients, and physician defendants prevail 80 percent of time in claims resolved by verdict.Continue reading…
Steven Brill’s TIME MAGAZINE blockbuster article, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us, uncovers the CHARGEMASTER: a publicly undisclosed pricelist accountable for what we see in hospital bills. What we see there doesn’t look good: it includes acetaminophen sold for $1.50 a tablet (you can buy 100 of those for the same price at Amazon); $77 for a box of sterile gauze pads (Amazon’s prices vary between $6 and $11); $18 for a single diabetes test strip (sold for 54 cents by Amazon); $108 for antibacterial Bacitracin ointment (Amazon’s prices vary between $2.50 and $6.50); and so forth. Charges for stay, scans, surgeries, canes, and wheelchairs skyrocket as well.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) rejects Brill’s analysis. According to AHA, the chargemaster aggregates the hospital’s overall costs on delivering quality care to patients: “In order to take medications in a hospital, even over-the-counter medicines, they must be prescribed by a doctor (a little bit of cost for the doctor), that order gets transmitted to the pharmacy (a little more cost), the order gets filled by a pharmacist or pharmacy tech who retrieves just one Tylenol pill and individually packages that one pill (still more cost), the pill gets transported from the pharmacy to the nursing unit where the patient resides (a little more cost), then the pill is retrieved by a registered nurse who personally gives the pill to the patient and then must document the administration of that pill in the patient medication administration record (a little more cost). All of this process to give a patient a single dose of Tylenol in a hospital bed [must also be] in compliance with all pertaining regulations (a little more cost).”
This post will not try to resolve the Tylenol Debate. Nor will it say anything about the government as a plausible substitute for the eccentric chargemaster. Instead, I will raise a legal question: Can patients sue hospitals for excessive markups on medications and devices?
My answer to this question is a qualified YES.
Entrepreneurial and business aspects of running a hospital fall under states’ consumer protection laws (Brookins v. Mote, 292 P.3d 347 (Mont. 2012)). Those aspects certainly include billing (Jaramillo v. Morris, 750 P.2d 1301, 1304 (Wash. App. 1988); Ambach v. French, 216 P.3d 405 (Wash. 2009)).
The key question here is whether an excessive markup on medications and devices amounts to deceit or an unfair trade practice. If it does, the hospital would be in violation of the relevant state consumer protection law.