News & Commentary

How To Improve Health Care IT

Fashioning health care IT so it protects patients against medical mistakes requires a sustained effort that should be funded by both the private and public sectors, according to a report by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“This approach is practical, politically feasible, and can be implemented in the near-term to lay the foundation for improving safety,” according to the report, which was released in May.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a think tank run by—as the name suggests—Democrats and Republicans.

And in the scheme of things, we aren’t talking major money. The cost would be a “nominal” amount of between $3 million and $4 million a year, the report says.

The report notes that more than 200,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors, the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. Health IT has done much to reduce medication errors (and to lower cost and to improve the quality of care), the report says. “However,” it continues, “there are instances in which health IT has the potential to create harm if not effectively developed, implemented, or used.” Delays caused by, for instance lack of interoperability, can lead to medication errors and slow response to abnormal tests.

There’s also the issue of downtime when, because of some malfunction, providers don’t have access to electronic medical records. Anything from natural disasters to cybersecurity threats can cause downtime.

“There are a number of strategies and best practices that can be used to enable health care organizations to effectively carry out ongoing clinical and administrative processes in the event of unexpected downtime,” the report states. Foremost among these is the integration of health IT safety into a provider’s overall safety efforts.

The report argues for the dissemination of best practices to ensure health IT safety and for continuous refinement and adoption of those standards.

The authors also suggest that organizations tracking IT use should make it as easy as possible for institutions to report mistakes and not get punished for doing so.

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