Oversight, accountability key to improving patient safety, say experts

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In order to protect patients from the dangers of malpractice due to healthcare IT implementation, a new federal agency dedicated to the oversight of healthcare IT should be established, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Industry responses to the IOM recommendations have been mixed. Support for a regulatory body primarily concerned with oversight and accountability of responsible use of medical informatics and other healthcare IT systems has been widely accepted. However, some medical experts wonder why the formation of such a committee has been left until after billions of dollars have been spent on implementing clinical informatics networks.

“It is not surprising that such events are now being discovered in health IT. What is surprising is that those creating and promoting these large systems have neither anticipated them or look for them,” said Dr. Richard Cook, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s department of anesthesia and critical care, as quoted by Information Week. “Development of [healthcare IT] is marked by an optimism about the effects of IT that are unwarranted and naive, and the willingness to embrace this optimism, to the extent that making large-scale investments in these systems and only later asking what their impact might be on patient safety, borders on recklessness.”

One of the key findings of the IOM study was that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sibelius should publish an action plan within the next 12 months, outlining how the HHS should work with healthcare providers and federal agencies to assess the impact of healthcare IT on patient safety.

Recommendations of the IOM report included the formation of a dedicated federal entity to the investigation of patient deaths, serious injuries and the potential for unsafe conditions as a result of healthcare IT implementation; ensuring the free flow of information between clinical informatics vendors, hospitals and government agencies; and the formation of a new healthcare IT safety council that would serve to assess the criteria by which safety concerns would be evaluated.