July 15, 2013

In a move that has disappointed many safety-minded experts and organizations, the federal government has declined to establish a new agency designed to investigate certain technology-related patient deaths at this time. Rather, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is putting in place a collaborative plan to prevent these particular kinds of patient deaths.

Currently, more and more healthcare providers and hospital facilities are shifting towards electronic health records (EHR) instead of paper-based charts. These electronic records are meant to reduce rates of communication-related errors and misdiagnosis. However, the technology itself has the potential to create new kinds of errors resulting from software glitches, implementation challenges and data input problems.

The Institute of Medicine has recommended that the government create a new agency tasked specifically investigating patient deaths tied to EHR-related errors and other technology-based problems. The government is declining to act on this recommendation at this time. Instead, the ONC will work with public and private organizations to attempt to prevent these deaths in the first place.

Prevention of patient deaths through trend-related data analysis is absolutely a goal worthy of pursuit. However, such initiatives fail to address those deaths which have already occurred and continue to occur in a focused way. It seems that both prevention and investigation of tragedy are necessary in order to both foster patient safety in the future and bring justice to the victims of technology-related medical errors.

The ONC is making important progress by embracing its new prevention-related mission. However, targeted investigations into deaths that do occur are necessary for patient safety and justice as well.

Source: Forbes, “Government Asks Health IT Industry To Police Itself On Patient Safety,” Zina Moukheiber, July 5, 2013

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