November 9, 2011
Poorly designed, hard-to-use computerized health records are a threat to patient safety, and an independent agency should be set up to investigate injuries and deaths linked to health information technology, according to a federal study released Tuesday.
The report by the Institute of Medicine comes as the government is spending billions of dollars in incentive payments to encourage doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records. The Department of Health and Human Services requested the study, in response to concerns from some doctors and public health experts that the drive for digital records might bring a wave of technology-induced medical errors.
The goal of moving from paper to computerized patient records is to improve patient care and curb health care costs. The federal report does not assert that the effort to move to electronic health records is misguided, but that safety considerations must be a crucial ingredient.
The proposed investigative agency, the report said, should be modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, which examines airline safety and accidents. The Institute of Medicine committee also called for tracking the safety performance of electronic health records in use. Results from studies done so far, the report said, are mixed. Success stories are offset by reports of patients harmed.
The advisory group recommended that electronic health record suppliers drop “hold harmless” clauses from their sales contracts. Such language often limits the freedom of doctors and hospitals to publicly raise questions about software errors or defects.
The report was an attempt to balance interests by acknowledging the safety risks and calling for more accountability, without hindering innovation or slowing the adoption of electronic health records, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the panel.