A wealth of data … for vendors

With the proposed new health IT glitch-reporting system, developers will know immediately when a complaint has been lodged against their EHR, and vendors may even know the name of the person who filed the complaint. But the physicians, clinics or hospitals saddled with a buggy or hard-to-use system won't know if there have been multiple complaints filed against their vendor.

The EHR Safety Event Reporting System was announced Nov. 15 at the National Press Club in Washington.

David Blumenthal, the head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, added federal heft and credibility to the project by being on hand at the launch party, calling the effort "a great example of the private sector providing leadership in a very important area."

But the system also may serve to head off possible federal regulation of the health IT industry just as a leading medical informatics group recently has endorsed reopening the issue for discussion.

Additionally, it could shield IT vendors from public exposure, particularly if, as part of a program of enhanced government scrutiny, a more public complaint registry should emerge—say, one similar to the federally mandated list for serious breach notifications.

The EHR Safety Event Reporting System will be administered by the iHealth Alliance, a not-for-profit coalition of medical societies and medical liability insurance carriers. The nuts and bolts of operating the servers and applications for the Web-based system will fall to PDR Network, the for-profit publisher of the Physicians' Desk Reference. PDR Network is already working with the iHealth Alliance in hosting the Health Care Notification Network, a drug-safety alert service.

"Our goal coming out of the blocks is not to make this a vendor-specific report," PDR Network CEO Ed Fotsch said.

Fotsch says vendors will most likely sign up to receive the complaints electronically, probably in real time. Providers, however, won't have access to that information.

There are only nine mandatory data fields on the system's Web-based reporting form, Fotsch said, so as to facilitate a quick response from providers if they've noticed a glitch. Yet the system also can accommodate much longer and more-detailed complaints, he said.

"It will be up to the provider to include an identifier," Fotsch said. "People aren't going to report information if they think the information they report will be used against them."

OK, that explains giving anonymity to the complainants, but not the vendors.

Under patient-safety organization legislation, the only groups that can access information are those that have signed a contract with the PSO to access information, Fotsch said. Those likely will include medial societies, vendors and the new health IT regional extension centers. Information that's released "will be what the iHealth Alliance decides," he said.