One of the highly touted benefits of electronic health records (EHRs) is reducing malpractice incidents and medical errors by providing improved documentation, an automatic safeguard against medication errors and drug interactions, and a system to track test results and follow up with patients.

However, physicians who aren’t careful when implementing and using an EHR can increase their malpractice liability.

According to a November article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians should be aware of malpractice pitfalls of EHR use. Some of these include the following:

The initial transition from paper to electronic records may create documentation gaps.

Failure of clinicians to use EHRs consistently may lead to gaps in documentation and communication.

E-mail advice multiplies the number of clinical encounters that could give rise to claims and may heighten the risk of claims if advice is offered without thorough investigation and examination of the patient.

More extensive documentation of clinical decisions and activity creates more discoverable evidence for plaintiffs, including metadata.

Temptation to copy and paste patient histories instead of taking new histories risks missing new information and perpetuates previous mistakes.

Failure to reply to patient e-mails in a timely fashion could constitute negligence and raise patient ire.

Better access to clinical information through EHRs could create legal duties to act on the information.

While the benefits of EHRs far exceed the drawbacks, awareness of potential consequences is critical to ensure patient safety as well as the integrity of a practice.