HHS advisers consider new database for health IT safety

Goal is to mitigate safety risks related to digital health records

A federal advisory group today proposed to create a new national database and reporting system to track health information technology-related hazards that could affect patient safety.

Under the national health IT reporting system under consideration, doctors and hospitals confidentially would report data on all “incidents” and “potential hazards” to a patient safety organization, according to a draft report by the Adoption/Certification Workgroup of the federal Health IT Policy Committee.

The patient safety organization would evaluate the reports and provide findings to help other providers improve safety. The data also should be used to influence future criteria for certification of health IT, the document said.

The panel is advising the Health and Human Services Department on distributing $17 billion in economic stimulus law payments to spur adopting health IT. Although using digitized records can lead to improved patient safety, it also has been associated with some safety risks, the draft document said.

“Overall, patient safety is better in health care organizations with IT than in health care organizations without IT, provided that the IT systems have been implemented correctly, and provided that an appropriate improvement culture exists,” the report states.

Also, some hazards inherent in health IT may affect patient care. They include technology problems such as hardware failures, software bugs, and incompatibility between applications and interfaces. Implementation and training deficiencies also create risks.

Also creating vulnerabilities are the “complex interactions of professionals, workflows, and user interfaces,” the report said.

“The complexity of the health care activity coupled with the number of individuals involved with an activity influences the probability of an incident,” committee members wrote.

Under the draft plan, the national health IT reporting system ideally would be patient-centered and consistent with the vision of a learning health care system.

“A ‘patient-centered’ approach focuses more on the patient and less on accountability for an error,” the draft proposal states. “We also want to focus attention on hazards and "near-misses". We want to prevent unsafe conditions that might lead to serious injuries or deaths.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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