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Lawmaker seeks answers in health IT safety inquiry


By Joseph Conn
Posted: November 14, 2012 - 7:00 am ET
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Rep. Renee Ellmers is still waiting for answers to questions both she and the Institute of Medicine have raised about the safety of electronic health-record systems, and today, the North Carolina Republican followed up on her inquiry.

Ellmers chairs the subcommittee on healthcare and technology of the House Committee on Small Business, which Ellers says claims jurisdiction over office-based physician medical practices.

In a two-page letter (PDF) today, Ellmers asked HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius why there has been no HHS response to a query letter she sent June 12 (PDF).

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In that earlier letter, Ellmers asked Sebelius to provide her with a copy of an HHS plan to minimize patient safety risks stemming from the use of health information technology, details of reports to HHS or its Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology about IT-related patient-safety issues, errors or data losses "that have resulted in patient risks, injuries and deaths"; and any internal documents whether the FDA would have the authority or capability to regulate EHRs or other health IT devices and whether it's advisable for the agency to have that authority.

Ellmers said she was basing her request on the recommendations in a November 2011 Institute of Medicine report, "Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care."

In her latest letter, Ellmers again cited the institute's 2011 report, which called for joint private- and public-sector patient-safety initiatives.

“In supporting increased oversight, IOM urged you to issue a plan within 12 months to minimize patient safety risks,” Ellmers said. “In fact, the report said that the increasing use of health IT creates an 'urgent need' for the development of a research agenda for the technology.”

Ellmers, a former nurse who was re-elected last week to a second term, said she has “heard nothing” from HHS about her requests and asked that HHS respond “promptly.”


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