Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

Do Health IT Systems Help or Hinder Patient Safety?

By Vera Gruessner

What does the federal government hope to achieve through the implementation of electronic patient records and health IT systems? There are a variety of aims behind the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and the certification process of EHR technology. The triple aim of healthcare comes to mind. Additionally, the industry and public sector is focused on reducing the high amount of medical errors found among healthcare settings.

Ever since the Institute of Medicine published the resource To Err is Human in 2000, the healthcare industry has been targeting the goal of decreasing medical errors and thereby elongating life span. The integration of health IT systems and certified EHR technology was considered an avenue for reducing medical mistakes and improving the quality of life among patient populations.

As for whether this has actually been achieved, the results are mixed, according to the Institute of Medicine’s Health IT and Patient Safety:¬†Building Safer Systems for Better Care. While moving away from paper records and incorporating electronic patient data within the healthcare system has allowed for more information to be accessible to physicians, there are a variety of patient safety and security concerns that have emerged since the HITECH Act.

Providers will need effective safeguards in place to allay the concerns surrounding data security while, at the same time, increasing EHR interoperability for easier access and sharing of patient health information across medical facilities.

Last month, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) submitted a report to Congress about health information blocking and some steps necessary to prohibit these actions and improve data interoperability.

Some key strategies ONC proposed in overcoming the barriers associated with information blocking and the lack of efficient health data exchange include greater public and private sector collaboration, informing providers on the requirements and expectations behind secure data sharing, and developing standards and governance for improved health information exchange.

While there are many steps left to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors, ONC reports in a HealthITBuzz blog that there is evidence showing EHR implementation has improved patient safety. In a February 2015 brief, ONC established the data and evidence showing that patients are now safer in the medical care setting after the adoption of EHRs and health IT systems.

Essentially, the report shows that, based on four literature reviews, lower numbers of patients have been harmed due to medical errors after EHR implementations than if the EHR Incentive Programs were never put in place.

“Acknowledging that every new technological advance brings with it unintended consequences, increasing evidence shows that the benefits of health IT outweigh the disadvantages,” the ONC brief stated. “There are good reasons to believe this trend will accelerate going forward, given that a great deal of work is taking in place, in parallel, to reduce risks, improve safety outcomes, and improve the way technology is used as it evolves. However, it will be important to monitor for those unintended consequences to ensure that the full potential of the technology is realized.”

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