HHS Releases Health IT Safety Plan

Posted on July 3, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

HHS has released a plan designed to strengthen health IT-related patient safety efforts, offering “specific and tangible” advice for stakeholders across the healthcare industry spectrum as to how they can participate.

The Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan builds on an earlier effort by the Institute of Medicine which examined how to make health IT-assisted care safer.  This Plan breaks down further how key health system players such as patients, providers, technology companies and healthcare safety oversight bodies can take appropriate steps to improve health IT safety.

The Plan also spells out the steps HHS believes it should take to make sure knowledge of best practices in health IT are leveraged to make a difference.  The following offers a few examples of what the agency expects to do:

Use Meaningful Use and the National Quality Strategy to advance health IT safety:  HHS plans to use knowledge of health IT safety risks and trends, and focus that knowledge on clinical areas where there’s already safety issues (such as surgical site infections). ONC, for its part, is going to establish a public-private mechanism for developing health IT-related patient safety measures and targets. And HHS also plans to incorporate these improvement priorities into the Meaningful Use program.

Incorporate safety into certification criteria for health IT products:  ONC expects to update its certification criteria for health IT products — including EMRs — to address safety concerns.  ONC  has already incorporated safety principles for software and design principles in its 2014 final rule, but just two such requirements  Expect more to come.

Support R&D of testing, user tools, and best practices related to health IT safety:   HHS and its federal partners are supporting R&D of evidence-based tools and interventions for health IT developers, implementers, clinical staff and PSOs.  This year, ONC will begin disseminating a new class of health IT safety tools designed to help health IT implementers and users assess patient safety and leverage the latest applied knowledge of health IT safety.

*  Incorporate health IT safety into education and training for healthcare pros:  Through its Workforce Development Program, ONC awarded grants to universities and community colleges to develop health IT programs. This effort will continue, but will add up-to-the-minute information on health IT-related safety to the schools’ programs.

*  Investigate and take corrective action addressing serious adverse events or hazards involving health IT:  HHS plans to work with private sector organizations which have the capacity to address such events or hazards, including The Joint Commission.

This is a meaty report, and I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what it has to say. I recommend you review it yourself. But if you’re looking for a quick takeaway, just know that HHS is entering a new era with its focus on health IT safety, and if the agency gets half of what it plans done, there are likely to be some serious ripple effects.