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Improving Patient Safety through Health IT

Dr. Farzad Mostashari | November 8, 2011

New Institute of Medicine Report: Health IT and Patient Safety
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) appreciates the thoughtful work of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its new report, Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care. The report was commissioned by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), as part of our long-term strategy to make safety efforts a top priority in our support of electronic health record (EHR) adoption.

Findings on Health IT and Patient Safety

This report reaffirms years of studies dating back to the seminal IOM reports To Err is Human and Crossing the Quality Chasm that underscored the tremendous potential of health IT to improve patient care and safety.  While the IOM report today recognizes the early safety successes of EHRs, including how computerized drug prescribing has significantly reduced the number of patients receiving incorrect medications, it also highlights how some of the complexities associated with EHRs have introduced new risks into the system.  The report also highlights the importance of health IT to continuously improving health care quality and safety by rapidly and reliably flagging potential patient safety risks and preventing adverse events in the clinical setting.

HITECH Act, Health IT, and Patient Safety

HHS has already initiated several activities under the HITECH Act to ensure that any safety issues that arise in the national adoption of EHRs are shared and addressed. The Secretary has appointed a technical expert panel focused on improving safety that regularly meets and reports its findings.  We have also funded a health care workforce training curriculum that strongly emphasizes safety and usability issues for the health IT workers who are responsible for installing and maintaining EHR systems.

HHS agrees with IOM that more can and should be done to capture safety issues unique to EHRs when and if they arise.  ONC will lead an HHS planning initiative to develop a comprehensive EHR safety action and surveillance plan well within the 12-month period recommended by IOM.  In formulating this plan, ONC will work with the FDA, AHRQ, NIH, and CMS as well as the broader health care community and industry.

Regulators, payers, health care providers, and patients each have a role in ensuring that patients are not harmed.  The safety of health IT is one critical element in a larger and longstanding patient safety discussion that includes medical errors, hospital acquired conditions, readmissions, and a host of other issues.  HHS is working to address these risks through several Affordable Care Act initiatives including the Partnership for Patients and accountable care organizations.  Health IT will help make these patient safety programs and others like it work by providing health care professionals and patients with the real-time information they need to avoid injury and death.

We are hopeful that today’s report will serve to strengthen health IT systems and enable EHRs to make their full contribution toward safer, better quality care for Americans.