Health information technology is a "remarkable asset" in the drive to improve healthcare quality, said Institute for Healthcare Improvement President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Berwick, M.D., while speaking to reporters attending the IHI's 17th annual National Forum for Quality Improvement in Health Care in Orlando, Fla., yesterday.
He also said National Health IT Coordinator David Brailer's plan for spurring physician adoption of IT was "brilliant" and that technology tools can help push quality improvement initiatives forward by reducing physician reliance on memory to follow best medical practices.
Without these tools, Berwick said, "You always leave some ingredients out of your cake (because) you're human."
Joe McCannon, manager of the IHI's 100,000 Lives Campaign, said IT can be particularly useful in assisting hospitals with medicine reconciliation, which has been proven to be the most difficult portion of the six-part program for hospitals to implement.
With medicine reconciliation, the IHI has said adverse drug events can be avoided by creating a list of all the medications a patient is taking and then determining the proper dose of the proper drugs that the patient needs to take at the proper time.
Other aspects of the campaign include the use of rapid-response teams to assist patients at the first sign that their conditions are declining, the use of evidence-based care for treatment of heart attacks, and the prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia as well as central-line and surgical-site infections.
McCannon added that it was also important that implementation of IT not be seen as an endpoint itself, and that unrealistic expectations should not be raised about how much technology alone could reduce medical errors and improve healthcare quality.
Earlier yesterday, Berwick spoke before 5,400 people attending the National Forum and another 8,000 people watched his presentation via satellite.
They listened as Berwick talked about the human side of medicine, the human cost of medical errors, and the progress being made in the 100,000 Lives Campaign, which was launched at last year's forum with the stated goal of avoiding 100,000 preventable deaths by June 14, 2006.
It was said then that 1,600 to 2,000 hospitals were needed to participate in the program to reach that goal and Berwick reported that 2,989 hospitals have signed up and that 74% of them have already reported mortality data to the IHI.
It's calculated that these hospitals have already prevented 14,679 deaths so far. If trends are consistent at all participating hospitals, Brailer said that this would translate into 32,397 lives saved by Dec. 31.
Using various statistical models, Berwick said it's been projected that current trends could translate into saving between 48,000 to 98,000 lives -- the same figures cited by the Institute of Medicine's To Err is Human report as the number of deaths caused each year by medical errors.
"Those numbers just popped out," Berwick told the reporters. "It's weird."
In order to reach the 100,000 goal, Berwick told forum attendees that they needed to reaffirm their commitment, assign responsibilities to staff, commit to submitting data, review campaign data on a daily or weekly basis, get their communities involved, and learn to see how other hospitals have solved problems they may be facing.
"If you're stalled, get unstalled," Berwick said. "We're a large country; someone somewhere has probably solved the problem you're working on."