ONC: Health IT has 'raised the floor' on patient safety

The evidence is in: Health IT and Meaningful Use functions have had a "dramatic" effect on improving patient safety, according to an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT issue brief.

The brief, prepared by Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based RTI International and initially published in February before being made public this week, reviewed several recent studies and determined that health IT was working to improve the quality and safety of healthcare. Benefits found include:

  • Increased delivery of care in adherence to clinical guidelines and protocols
  • Enhanced capability for surveillance and monitoring of care delivery and disease conditions
  • Decreased medication error rates
  • Decreased rates in the utilization of care

ONC stated that it expected the trend to accelerate. More "nuanced" issues that still need to be examined include what new areas, such as interoperability, will provide the most impact on improving safety; what contextual factors will determine success; what can be learned from human factors engineering; and how to make health IT itself safer to avoid the "unintended consequences" that adversely impact patient safety, which ONC acknowledged was a problem.

"Research should now turn to understanding the relatively small but important number of unintended consequences that detract from the overall impact of this new technology and the variability in the success of health IT implementations, especially in areas that impact patient safety," the brief's authors said.

In a related blog post, ONC Chief Medical Information Officer Andrew Gettinger and Kathy Kenyon, J.D., a senior policy analyst with ONC, point out that health IT is not a "magic bullet" but rather a "tool that can help health information flow in ways that allow for improvements in patient health and safety." They also state that health IT has "raised the floor" on patient safety.

EHR-related patient safety is an ongoing issue. ONC and other entities have been attempting to address the problem with guidance and research. The Joint Commission recently issued a sentinel event alert regarding health IT issues that can harm patients and how to avoid them.

To learn more:
- here's the issue brief (.pdf)
- read the blog post

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