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3/9/2003
09:11 AM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
Commentary
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Editor's Note: IT Can Help Make Health Care Safer

As the debate over malpractice insurance heats up, it's had me thinking a lot about technology's role in providing better care for patients and keeping them safer. Insurance costs are rising (which makes doctors unhappy), some states are capping the cost of malpractice suits (which makes lawyers unhappy), some patients are finding it difficult to find adequate care, some doctors are leaving the practice because the risks and costs are too high, and on top of very legitimate malpractice suits there are frivolous ones tainting the whole picture. So what's the answer?

The topic of patient safety surfaced at InformationWeek's Spring Conference last week. As consultant and columnist Robert M. Rubin notes, "While it is possible that some physicians will be more careful under the threat of large malpractice awards, I can't help but think that the cost of our current tort process could be better used to improve the medical system itself." (See p. 70 for his take on environmental safety.)

Well said. Already there are great examples in the medical field where technological innovation can go a long way toward preventing errors. There's slow but steady progress toward automating the way medicines are ordered and filled, says John Halamka, a physician and CIO at CareGroup Health System. Halamka estimates it could be five years before all doctors in the United States use electronic systems to prescribe medicine, but it will eliminate much of the potential for human error that's inherent in handwritten prescriptions. And Jody Davids, executive VP and CIO at Cardinal Health, believes emerging radio-frequency ID technology can improve patient safety.

So, while medical mistakes shouldn't be glossed over, why not give insurance breaks to doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities that install technologies designed to prevent mistakes that could mean the difference between life and death?

Stephanie Stahl
Editor
sstahl@cmp.com


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