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Patient safety requires coordinated public-private strategy, says ONC plan

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Promoting the healthcare industry's use of health information technology to make care safer is the primary objective of a Dec. 21 plan (.pdf) from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

ONC argues in the plan that patient safety is a shared responsibility that requires a coordinated strategy among the government, the health IT industry, patient safety organizations and healthcare providers.

"The proper steps to improve the safety of health IT can only be taken if there is better information regarding health IT's risks, harms, and impact on patient safety," states the plan.

"The Health IT Safety Plan will improve knowledge on the types, frequency, and severity of health IT-related patient safety events. It also aims to use health IT as a tool to facilitate the reporting of patient safety events in general," it adds.

Toward that end, the plan recommends establishing mechanisms that facilitate reporting among users and developers, assisting Patients Safety Organizations, ONC-authorized certification bodies, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services surveyors in dealing with health IT-related safety issues, as well as aggregating and analyzing data on health IT-related safety events.

The plan says the increase in electronic health record adoption by healthcare organizations has created an opportunity to improve patient safety by increasing clinicians' awareness of potential errors and adverse interactions, while letting patients provide input on data accuracy more efficiently than they can with paper records.

Because EHR adoption rates have been low historically, ONC makes the case in the plan that the "lack of patient harm attributed to health IT may not be due to how safe health IT is, but to its lack of use."

For critics who charge that health IT is the problem, not the solution, the plan notes that initial research "would seem to suggest that health IT is a modest cause of medical errors," but at the same time argues that there is "little published evidence" for quantifying the magnitude of risks associated with health IT.

In the end, ONC concludes, "it is difficult to determine whether an error is caused by or associated with health IT."   

ONC is accepting public comments on the plan through February 4. Based on the public comments received, ONC will publish the final Health IT Safety Plan.

For more:
- download the plan released for public comment (.pdf)

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