Congresswoman: HHS must follow up on health IT safety report

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), chair of the House Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology, has formally requested this week that U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius report on the status of the agency's activities to further patient safety pertaining to the increased use of electronic health records and other healthcare technology.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) last November recommended that a new watchdog agency be created to monitor health IT-related safety issues, and suggested that HHS--and not the Food and Drug Administration--do so. The IOM also recommended that vendors be required to register their products with the new agency, that HHS issue a plan to minimize patient safety risks associated with health IT, and that a study be conducted to quantify the safety issues associated with health IT.

Ellmers, who is a registered nurse, asked Sebelius to provide, among other things:

  • A copy of her plan to minimize safety risks and a schedule for HHS' work with the private sector, as recommended by IOM; if the plan and schedule have not been issued, then information as to when they would be completed
  • Specific information on health IT-related errors that have been reported
  • The status of the development of a mechanism to report patient deaths and other health IT-related safety issues
  • Other actions taken and progress made by HHS regarding the issue.

Ellmers requested that the information be provided to her by July 12.   

"Because health IT has the promise to improve health care delivery for patients, physicians and other medical professionals, I remain eager to work with you to ensure that health IT is safe, effective and affordable," she said in her letter.

The IOM is not the only entity to express concern about patient safety and EHRs. Others in the industry have noted the unique and sometimes unintended safety risks associated with EHRs.

To learn more:
- here's Ellmers' letter (.pdf)
- read the IOM report
- check out this HITECH Answers post