Vendor gag clauses impede health IT patient safety research

Electronic health record vendor contracts must be changed to allow for more examination of patient safety without researchers having to worry about obtaining vendor permission or gag clauses affecting their work, according to a new post by Kathy Kenyon, a former project officer with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, in the Health Affairs Blog.

Kenyon states that much of the attention on gag clauses barring physicians from complaining about their systems is misplaced; the real problem, she says, is gag clauses that stifle research. Those gag values, which are related to confidentiality and intellectual property terms, are unclear and overbroad.

EHR design and usability have long been determined to have an impact on patient safety. Vendor contracts, however, have hindered efforts to learn more and resolve the problem.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a guide earlier this month addressing the issue.

Kenyon also discounts vendors' concerns that sharing the screenshots would diminish their work.

"[Health IT safety researchers] believe the EHR vendors' fears about loss of value of the intellectual property in their screens are exaggerated, mainly because it is not that hard to discover what different EHRs look like," Kenyon says. "For vendors hoping to improve their EHRs by "stealing" from others, waiting for research with screenshots to be published would be an exceptionally inefficient way to do so."

She recommends that a balance be found that protects vendors' intellectual property but without inhibiting or biasing research or adverse event reporting. 

To learn more:
- here's the blog post

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