Proposed Center to Focus on Health IT Safety Issues

Building on several reports in recent years that focused on the intersection of health IT and patient safety, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has released a roadmap for developing a national Health IT Safety Center.

The proposed center would focus on two main objectives: “using health IT to make care safer, and continuously improving the safety of health IT.”

Safety center would aim for ‘achieving safer care through collaboration’

Working with ONC, RTI International brought together a task force of health IT developers, clinicians and other insiders to help develop the roadmap. The projected cost of the center – which could begin with federal funding to a host organization – might range from $17.8 to $20.6 million over five years.

The planners did not propose a regulatory function for the center. Instead, its activities would include:

  • Bringing together health IT stakeholders from the private and public sectors to exchange ideas.
  • Identifying, testing and supporting the implementation of solutions for health IT concerns.
  • Supporting health care providers regarding optimal IT usage.

Developers and vendors of health care IT products would play an important role in the center’s activities, as “Often they will be their customers’ best sources of information on the safety and safe use of health IT,” the authors wrote.

Many factors contribute to health IT safety

One of the publications the ONC cited in its roadmap was the Institute of Medicine’s “Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care” report from 2011. In it, the authors write that “In looking for ways to make health IT– assisted care safer, it is important to recognize that the products are not used in isolation. Rather, they are part of a larger sociotechnical system that also includes people — such as clinicians or patients — organizations, processes, and the external environment.” Safety requires optimum interactions between all these moving parts, and safety analyses “should not look for a single ‘root cause’ of problems,” the authors wrote.

At the Health Affairs Blog, Dean Sittig and Hardeep Singh asked: “Why hasn’t all of this [the activities of the proposed Safety Center] been done by now? The answer lies in the complexity of health IT use. In addition, research to understand unintended consequences of Health IT has emerged mostly in the last decade. As recognized in the roadmap, a comprehensive, sociotechnical approach is essential; this must include technical factors, as well as nontechnical factors such as people, workflow, and organizational issues.”

The authors discussed a Quality & Safety in Health Care paper they coauthored that provided a model with eight interrelated dimensions “designed to address the socio-technical challenges involved in design, development, implementation, use, and evaluation of HIT within complex adaptive healthcare systems.” These dimensions include:

  • Hardware and software
  • Clinical data stored on the system
  • The developers, clinicians, patients  and other humans who create and use the technology
  • The workflow in which the technology is used
  • The policies and procedures of the organization using the technology

“The proposed Safety Center is a step forward, but it will require strong and sustained support from a multitude of stakeholders, including vendors, researchers, and policymakers. A great deal is at stake here,” Sittig and Singh concluded. “In the absence of any other central oversight, the Safety Center will need to lead the way in making health IT safer and better, so we can improve the health and health care of our patients.”

Senior Health Care Needs Require EHRs

Across the health care industry, providers are already preparing for a massive shift in medical coverage, as the baby boomer generation is heading into retirement age. In the next few decades, geriatric care will become a major focus for care providers due to various factors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, modern medicine has extended the life spans of many Americans – which means that the population of seniors is expected to double in the next 25 years to 72 million individuals. In fact, according to the CDC, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be comprised of seniors by 2030. Clearly, physicians need to take steps now to come up with care strategies for treating this demographic, which includes the adoption of intelligent medical software.
Senior health care needs require EHRs.

Many seniors move from acute care settings and often face chronic illness at the same time, which means that health IT infrastructure should not fall short. Some of the biggest health crises in the U.S., including diabetes, heart disease and obesity, will become quite challenging for the elderly in the next few years.
There are several IMS benefits that can assist providers with optimal senior care, including:

  • Chronic care management EHR features
  • Scalable solutions that adapt to practices large and small
  • ICD-10 compliant software
  • A single database for EHR and practice management
  • Specialty templates that adjust to the myriad challenges of senior care, including osteoporosis, arthritis, emphysema, hypertension, COPD, diabetes and other chronic illnesses
  • E-prescribing options that allow providers to keep better track of medications
  • Referral management capabilities for specialists

Senior care will become one of the key challenges facing the U.S. medical system in the next few decades. As such, physicians need to be prepared to treat this growing population with the best possible health IT advancements, including IMS.