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Updated ONC SAFER Guides Encourage EHR Usability, Safety

Recent updates to the ONC SAFER Guides equip providers with a variety of resources to improve EHR usability, safety, and implementation.

EHR Usability

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- ONC has added updated ONC SAFER Guides to its Health IT Playbook in an effort to help providers improve EHR usability and safety at their practices.

The ONC SAFER Guides were designed to help providers ensure patient safety when utilizing new, unfamiliar technologies.

Considering a recent report found that EHR-associated patient harm and EHR data management is one of the biggest threats to patient safety, guides created to mitigate patient harm are a necessary provider resource in an ever-changing technological landscape.

According to ONC, EHR usability and EHR system safety are contingent on two processes:

  • The developers’ decisions about the functionalities or capabilities in the software created by the developer, and
  • Those decisions made by the installing facility or practice when the EHR is implemented and customized. 

ONC provides a variety of downloadable PDF guides for those looking for information on the following topics: high priority practices, contingency planning, system interfaces, computerized provider order entry with decision support, clinician communication, organizational responsibilities, system configuration, patient identification, and test results reporting and follow up.

Over 52,000 users have accessed the ONC SAFER Guides since their initial release in January of 2014.  Using the guides, providers can opt to take self-assessments of personal EHR system safety vulnerabilities using a checklist of evidence-based practices recommended by experts.

All SAFETY Guides for each of the nine key focus areas contain expert recommendations, checklists, and also note templates for provider teams to self-examine the safety and usability of their own EHR systems.

Due to the steady development of new innovations in the healthcare industry, including open application programming interfaces (APIs), ONC has updated the SAFER guides with input from healthcare providers and EHR vendors regarding best practices with new technologies.

Several associations of EHR specialists and providers, including AMA, have highlighted the following as key updates to the SAFER Guides:  

  • A new recommendation to the Test Results and Follow-up Reporting Guide to improve communication of abnormal results to patients which is based on recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine.
  • An update to the Contingency Planning Guide reflecting best practices for prevention and mitigation of ransomware attacks as well as new recommendations about “downtimes,” those times when systems are partially (response times are unacceptably slow) or completely unavailable. These both represent multiple safety issues.

ONC stated EHR developers have used the SAFER Guides to create their own manuals to help providers safely implement systems and improve EHR usability.

The updated Guide additions will be especially helpful for technical assistance providers, particularly in small practices.

Small practices tend to struggle more than their larger counterparts with EHR adoption and implementation. Updates designed to help these practices improve EHR system usability and increase rates of sending, receiving, locating, and integrating health data could have a big impact on patient care.

The newly updated ONC SAFER Guides are just a few of the most recent additions to the Health IT Playbook.

The federal agency has also added two new training modules and new content about immunizations registries and workforce training to its arsenal of provider resources.

In addition, the agency has created a Health IT Playbook guide.

“We look forward to continued engagement across a wide array of stakeholders focused on improving health IT operational usability and safety,” ONC said in a recent blog post. “We have seen impressive growth in the safe use of health IT, but know that it takes work to keep them, and ourselves, up to date as the health IT industry evolves.”

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