A new report by the Institute of Medicine calls for more oversight by public and private healthcare facilities in terms of their handling of patient data. It recommends that The Secretary of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publish a plan within 12 months to minimize patient safety risks associated with health IT and report annually on the progress being made.

Covering a broad range of range of health information technologies, including electronic health records, secure patient portals, and health information exchanges, but not software for medical devices, The Institute’s report recommends a thorough review of the impact on Information Technology in the Healthcare sector.

It also states that if the Secretary determines that progress toward improving safety is not deemed to be adequate within a year, then the US Food and Drug Administration should step in and create a framework for future regulation, so that the Agency is ready to act if necessary.

Gail L. Warden, president emeritus of Henry Ford Health System and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said :

“Just as the potential benefits of health IT are great, so are the possible harms to patient safety if these technologies are not being properly designed and used … To protect patients, industry and government have a shared responsibility to ensure greater transparency, accountability, and reporting of health IT-related medical errors.”

Additionally, the report outlines how the Federal Government is spending billions of dollars to encourage hospitals and healthcare providers to adopt new technologies, including keeping all patients’ data electronically by 2014. However, strategies and methods for safeguarding the data and ensuring its correct and efficient use in providing healthcare to patients have not been thought through properly.

The situation is compounded due to the lack of data, with the wide variety of software and hardware providers discouraging free access to data in regards to their contracts with healthcare facilities and the day to day use of their products. Nonetheless, reports have crept out of some serious errors, including:

  • Medication dosing errors
  • Failure to detect fatal illnesses
  • Treatment delays due to poor human-computer interactions or loss of data
  • Reported patient deaths and injuries

In conclusion, the report suggests the Health and Safety Council, which is funded by the HSS, be established to investigate a wide range of aspects of patient safety, especially in regards to the use of new technologies and data exchange. These include the investigation of issues were technology is involved with :

  • Patient deaths
  • Injuries
  • Potential unsafe conditions

Also to encourage :

  • Monitoring safety and measuring impacts of health IT
  • That health IT vendors support the free exchange of information

“Hold harmless” clauses in IT vendors contracts that shift the liability of unsafe health IT features to care providers greatly discourage information sharing.

Written By Rupert Shepherd