Healthcare // Electronic Health Records
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Athenahealth To Pay Some Malpractice Insurance Premiums

The jury's out on whether electronic health records increase malpractice lawsuits, but vendor pledges to help cut risk for some customers.

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As an industry observer is questioning whether electronic health records (EHRs) could actually raise the risk of medical malpractice suits in ambulatory settings, health IT vendor Athenahealth soon will offer to pay the malpractice insurance premiums of some of its clients, InformationWeek Healthcare has learned. The Watertown, Mass.-based vendor also will help qualified customers defend malpractice lawsuits in court.

Athenahealth will cover the premiums for physician practices that subscribe to three of the company's products: AthenaClinicals EHR; AthenaCollector medical billing and practice management; and AthenaCoordinator, a recently acquired care coordination service formerly known as Proxsys. Practices will have to conform to Athena's performance standards in order to get the perk, Athena chairman, CEO, and president Jonathan Bush confirmed to InformationWeek Healthcare Tuesday at the 2011 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) conference in Las Vegas.

"Malpractice is about attacking process breakdowns," Bush said. "Athena is about process control." By that, he means removing some of the many variations in the provision and administration of healthcare.

The guarantee, which will exclude certain high-risk medical specialties with high malpractice insurance premiums, such as obstetrics, isn't quite ready for prime time, but Bush said he expects to implement the policy some time in 2012.

[Six months after leaving his post as the first national coordinator for health IT, Dr. David Blumenthal Talks EHRs, Healthcare Reform. Find out what he had to say.]

Bush's announcement comes as health IT consultancy the AC Group is circulating a white paper raising the issue of whether the rush to implement EHRs is leaving physicians open to higher malpractice risk.

The AC Group paper examined 65 ambulatory EHRs that were certified to meet federal 2011 Meaningful Use standards and found that more than 90% didn't offer "adequate medico-legal training" and that 95% raised specific legal issues. Further investigation of the specific functionality of 42 ambulatory products indicated that nearly 90% couldn't provide alerts that considered laboratory results when clinicians placed medication orders, and about 60% didn't automatically update clinical decision support to reflect changes in recommended treatments.

Products with the more stringent but strictly optional CCHIT 2011 stamp of approval from the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology did have these features.

Bush said he just learned about the white paper at the MGMA conference, but had not yet read the document.

It is widely expected that the influential Institute of Medicine will shortly issue its own report on the topic of EHRs and medical malpractice risk.

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