Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Frank Federico: Technology can't dictate care

If implemented well, technology can do great things for healthcare, but providers can't let it dictate how to do their work, says Institute for Healthcare Improvement Executive Director Frank Federico.

"We can't let use of technology unintentionally harm patients because we didn't anticipate the possibility that harm could occur and put safeguards in place to mitigate it," he said in a recent interview.

One major issue hospitals and healthcare facilities face is alarm fatigue, and Federico said it is a pervasive problem that is unlikely to be fixed with one solution. He questions whether doctors have become immune to constant alarms.

Some ways alarm fatigue can be addressed include an approach currently underway at Boston Medical Center, he said. At the facility, officials focused on one ward and looked at what alarms were sounding in that area. They then determined which alarms were necessary and which were not.

In addition to finding ways to limit alarm fatigue, Federico spoke about other keys to safety, including:

  • A system for learning: If a problem occurs in one area of the hospital, everyone should be aware of it and how to solve it, in case it happens somewhere else.
  • Appropriate training: Hours and hours of training shouldn't be necessary, because that means the technology is too complicated, Federico said. Technology should be as easy to use as possible.
  • Good user support: There should be trained "super users," according to Federico. These people should know the technology in and out and can be available to answer any questions.

As technology grows, so, too, do calls in the healthcare industry for stricter patient safety policies. About 60 health IT stakeholders--including the American Medical Informatics Association and Health IT Now--want to see congressional involvement in clarifying appropriate risk-based oversight of health IT. In a letter sent to Congress last month, the groups said now is the time for legislation "that achieves the complementary goals of protecting patients, ensuring safe and effective care and fostering innovation in the rapidly growing health IT field."

To learn more:
- read the interview