US Health Panel Calls for National Health Information Technology Error Database

Safety Database Idea Supported By Industry - At Least For the Moment

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Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management.

US Health Panel Calls for National Health Information Technology Error Database

Errors in patient data, problems with electronic health record (EHR) systems or other health information technology (HIT) systems would be reported to a national database if a recommendation by a US Health and Human Services advisory panel is accepted, a Government HealthIT report says.

It seems like a very good idea given some recent problems (for example, here and here).

The recommendation was made last week by the Health IT Policy Committee’s adoption and certification working group. The group proposed that the Patient Safety Organization would look at the reported data and report its findings to the government and to industry. The belief is that this would lead to better EHR and other HIT systems.

To "help" the reporting along, the working group suggested that it be made a requirement for hospitals and physicians wanting stimulus money to buy EHR systems.

In addition, the group wants to see whether someone like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) should be the owner of the information. I doubt it, since that is outside the charter and expertise of the NTSB. I also don't think the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be for it either, since this responsibility really is in their charter.

Furthermore, the FDA is already asking hospitals to report safety risks with HIT systems. A story in the Huffington Post says that the "FDA last month asked a network of 350 hospitals it set up across the country to report data on potential hazards from a range of computer-assisted medical devices." These reports will be supposedly posted on the FDA's website.

Last month a number of patient safety concerns with HIT systems were highlighted at an informational hearing held by a workgroup of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology's Policy Committee.

According to the Government HealthIT story, HIT system providers seemed supportive of the idea of a database. However, another Huffington Post story in February said that EHR companies were much less supportive of any government safety oversight of EHR systems.

This latter view is not surprising. Some EHR system providers have "gag-orders" on their product users that prevent them from discussing problems they are having with their products. In January, Sen. Chuck Grassley sent letters to a number of prominent hospitals and EHR system providers asking if they have such gag-orders in their contracts.

I suspect that a national HIT error reporting system will be developed. The only real question is whether it will be voluntary or mandatory.

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