Data transfer issues for HIT systems a major safety concern

Data transfer between health IT systems often is inadequate from a patient-safety perspective, according to a new analysis of HIT-related safety events by the ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization.

In its report, for which 171 health IT events were examined at 36 facilities between April and June of last year, the Plymouth Meeting, Pa., nonprofit organization identified five potential problem areas for such events. In addition to inadequate data transfer, researchers said that other notable health IT related problems included systems not functioning as intended; poor system configurations; inaccurate data entry in patient records; and data entry in the wrong patient records.

"Health IT's promise for improved patient safety and healthcare delivery is great, but so too are its risks of jeopardizing patient safety and care if organizations fail to address, throughout the life cycle of any health IT project, the issues raised by this Deep Dive report," the authors wrote. "As healthcare facilities respond to government incentives to adopt health IT, they must also keep their attention focused on how systems affect safety to ensure that the benefits of health IT can be realized."

A breakdown of the events found that more than half (53 percent) were associated with medication management systems. Of the systems identified in such events, computerized physician order entry systems were mentioned the most (25 percent of the time). Clinical documentation systems also were implicated in a good portion (17 percent) of such events.

"Health IT is not a replacement for human judgment and, in fact, human vigilance is needed to ensure appropriate use of health IT to improve patient care," the authors said. "Providers must be aware of the unintended consequences of health IT, as identified in this analysis and elsewhere in the clinical literature, to intervene to prevent the problems that health IT can both promulgate and hide."

ECRI annually publishes a list of what it considers top health technology hazards. In its last list, published in November, three of the top 10 hazards dealt with errors in information management: patient/data mismatches in electronic health records and other health IT systems; interoperability failures with medical devices and health IT systems; and caregiver distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices.

For more information:
- read the ECRI announcement
- purchase the report