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Panel Proposes Cures For Health IT Ills

For all of the federal government’s enthusiasm to move the health care system into electronic medical records —  in tandem with the implementation of the health care law — the widespread use of information technology for patient care still raises some concerns, according to a new report today from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

The IOM’s 197-page report, requested by the Department of Health and Human Services, provides recommendations on how to prevent and to keep track of patient injuries and deaths caused by technology mishaps.

The 18-member committee noted that “when designed and used appropriately, health IT is expected to help improve the performance of health professionals, reduce operational and administrative costs, and enhance patient safety.”

But it recommended that HHS produce a plan in the next 12 months to “minimize patient safety risks associated with health IT.” Though rarely reported,  “medication dosing errors, failure to detect fatal ailments and treatment delays due to bad human-computer interactions or loss of data” and other technologically-generated problems have caused patient deaths and injuries.

Some of the recommendations to HHS include creating “quality management principles and risk management processes” when designing health IT products. Other suggestions are to create alerts that will reduce the rate of false-alarms and to create user-friendly interfaces for these technology devices.

Dr. Paul Tang, of Stanford University and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation — and member of the IOM committee, says the group would urge Congress to create an independent entity — similar to the National Transportation Safety Board —  that would have the authority to investigate health IT-associated problems to determine what went wrong and why.

“It’s not binding, it’s just advice,” he says. “It would be an independent organization that would go out and not have the threat of imposing regulations, so they are non-threatening.” As it stands now, health IT vendors are not required to report health IT-related injuries or deaths.

“We are not recommending a new regulatory agency,” Tang says. “But we do think there is value in an independent federal entity that would basically go and investigate these incidents, learn from them and then disseminate their learning. That’s what we feel is not happening now.”

Health IT vendors would be willing to report data and errors to such a council, Tang believes.

Creating and enforcing regulations would be left to the Food and Drug Administration.  But as it stands now, the FDA doesn’t have that role.