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Health IT Expected To Improve Patient Safety

Institute of Medicine receives $989,000 contract to study how electronic health records and other technologies can help prevent medical errors.

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As healthcare delivery organizations move from paper-based systems to electronic health records (EHR), the Institute of Medicine (IOM) will conduct a year-long study aimed at ensuring that health IT (HIT) will achieve its full potential for improving patient safety in healthcare.

IOM will conduct the study under a $989,000 contract announced Wednesday by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), which is charged with coordinating federal efforts regarding heath IT adoption and meaningful use.

The study will examine a comprehensive range of patient safety issues, including prevention and rapid reporting of HIT-related errors and patient safety issues. It will make recommendations concerning the potential effects of government policies and private sector actions in maximizing patient safety and avoiding medical errors through HIT.

According to David Blumenthal, national coordinator for HIT, IOM has been at the forefront of the movement to improve patient safety since 1999, when it published its ground-breaking study, "To Err Is Human."

"This study will draw on IOM's depth of knowledge in this area to help all of us ensure that HIT reaches the goals we are seeking for patient safety improvement," Blumenthal said in a statement.

The study will focus on specific areas with the aim of finding ways to improve the use of technology as the healthcare industry moves from paper-based systems to digitized medical records.

The study will include:

-- Summary of existing knowledge of the effects of HIT on patient safety;

-- Identifying approaches to promote the safety-enhancing features of HIT while protecting patients from any safety problems associated with HIT;

-- Identifying approaches for preventing HIT-related patient safety problems before they occur;

-- Identifying approaches for surveillance and reporting activities to bring about rapid detection and correction of patient safety problems;

-- Addressing the potential roles of private sector entities such as accrediting and certification bodies as well as patient safety organizations and professional and trade associations;

-- Discussion of existing authorities and potential roles for key federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

"Improving patient safety in healthcare depends on thoroughness in planning and execution, to find problems systematically and correct them decisively," said Donald Berwick, CMS administrator, in a statement. "We have high expectations for patient safety improvement through HIT, but achieving those goals will require the same careful and vigorous approach that is needed to improve safety in any enterprise. The IOM can help us identify a productive path to better patient safety with the help of HIT."

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