Healthcare Business News

Health IT safety still a work in progress, ONC leaders say

By Joseph Conn
Posted: June 27, 2013 - 11:45 am ET

Federal plans to regulate the safety of health information technology remain a work in progress, but tools are available now to engage patients in using health IT for their own benefit, two federal health IT leaders told a gathering of physician informaticists Wednesday.

Dr. Jacob Reider, chief medical officer at HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said a final version of HHS' health IT and patient safety action plan is due soon. Reider's remarks came during a presentation on federal HIT activities at the 22nd annual Physician-Computer Connection Symposium in Ojai, Calif., hosted by the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems, a professional association for physician informaticists.

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HHS released a draft of the plan in December along with a call for public comment.

State and national medical societies responded to that call, with the Texas Medical Association, for example, asking for the appointment of a federal patient-safety czar. The American Medical Association called for more research on the intersection of IT and patient safety.

Reider said the government wants to establish a communications infrastructure to capture data about IT-related patient safety events “so we know what is good and what is bad” at the provider level. “We need to know with much greater granularity what has happened and investigate. When we find a problem, we need to be able to intervene and assist your organizations in addressing those problems.”

Physician leadership will play a key role, he said.

“You can lead your organizations toward a true culture of change when we think about the safety of everything we do, that safety is one of the things we always think about when we implement new systems,” he said.

Federal health IT leaders are also counting on providers to harness technology to improve patient engagement, said David Muntz, principal deputy national coordinator at ONC.

Physician informaticists, Muntz said, may contend with workflow issues that impede them from optimizing health IT, but patients have “lifeflow” issues that can, for example, lead to non-compliance with a drug regime or care plan. Muntz, the former chief information officer at Baylor Health Care System, likened provider and patient engagement with technology to two wheels.

At present, he said, “There is a wheel that's not spinning, and that's the patient part. We're trying to get you to help be the change agent for patients. We've got to optimize the efforts to get these two wheels spinning at the right pace.”

Muntz said there are two key tools to achieve both: the exchange of patient information among providers, and the emerging Blue Button technologies that allow patients to download and transfer their medical records.

“If you do one without the other, you'll only be able reach a portion of the population,” Muntz said.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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