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ONC lays out health IT safety plan


By Joseph Conn
Posted: December 26, 2012 - 3:15 pm ET
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Acknowledging that new health information technologies can create patient-safety risks, HHS' health IT office is inviting healthcare providers, vendors and the public to comment on its recently issued national Health Information Technology Patient Safety Action & Surveillance Plan.

"Just as health IT can create new opportunities to improve patient care and safety, it can also create new potentials for harm," the plan, released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, states. The plan's authors cited "poor user interface design or unclear information displays" as potential contributors to dangers such as physicians ordering the wrong drugs for patients. "Health IT will only fulfill its enormous potential to improve patient safety if the risks associated with its use are identified, if there is a coordinated effort to mitigate those risks and if it is used to make care safer," the authors wrote.

The plan comes in response to an Institute of Medicine report, Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care, that was commissioned by the ONC and released in November 2011. The IOM's report, like the just-released HHS plan, emphasized there was little hard information about the root causes of IT-related errors, but the IOM concluded from the limited data available that much of the threat comes from the ways providers use IT.

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"The way in which health IT is designed, implemented and used can determine whether it is an effective tool for improving patient safety or a hindrance that threatens patient safety and causes patient harm," the IOM report's authors wrote. The report also called for the creation of a national health IT safety plan within 12 months.

HHS will accept comments on its 39-page safety plan through Feb. 4.

The plan includes five action steps for the ONC:
  • Lead a public-private process to identify health IT safety priority areas and create related measures and targets for reduction of health IT-related averse events.
  • Work with the Food and Drug Administration to produce a report with "a strategy and recommendations for an appropriate, risk-based regulatory framework for health IT" to promote both safety and innovation.
  • Set up an "ONC Safety Program," with help from the CMS, the FDA, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Office for Civil Rights at HHS (which oversees compliance with HIPAA privacy and security rules) to coordinate implementation and monitoring of the Health IT Safety Plan.
  • Promote and encourage states to incorporate health IT into their patient safety oversight programs.
  • "Encourage private-sector leadership and shared responsibility" in promoting patient safety.
Rep. Renee Ellmers had been pressing HHS for a copy of the plan since June. The North Carolina Republican, a former nurse, chairs the House Committee on Small Business' Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology. No one from Ellmers' office was available to comment on the plan Wednesday.


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