IT's Role in Improving Patient Safety - Where Do We Stand?

Healthcare Informatics, By Rajiv Leventhal, May 10, 2016

"In 1999, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report 'To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System' brought about an awareness about medical errors in healthcare organizations that had not previously existed. The report was based upon analysis of multiple studies by a variety of organizations and concluded with the shocking figure that between 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year as a result of preventable medical errors.

Since the release of that report, the push for improved patient safety has continued across the healthcare ecosystem. But just last week, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, reported on by National Public Radio (NPR) online, revealed that medical errors rank as the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., and highlights how shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye, as reported in a news story by Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland. The study was published an article The BMJ(formerly the British Medical Journal).

As such, various health IT leaders point to the role that technology such as electronic health records (EHRs) can play in preventing medical errors. James Merlino, M.D., president at South Bend, Ind.-based clinical improvement software company Press Ganey, and former chief experience officer and associate chief of staff at the Cleveland Clinic, for instance, says 'Every month you’re seeing evidence that [technology] decreases medical errors and thus improves safety. Merlino, who is a former clinician himself, feels that organizations do a good job in teaching providers how to use EHRs, but are not great in figuring out how to best integrate them into their workflows. 'When they can integrate it into their workflows, it’s not only a good tool for providing additional capabilities, but it helps them deliver higher quality and safer care,' Merlino says."