AHA Chimes in on Health Information Technology Patient Safety Issues

In a letter issued February 4th, the American Hospital Association gave high praise to the Health Information Technology Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan, FY 2013-2015, which was released by Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in late December 2012.  The accolades were, however, tempered with a couple of suggestions that could help to improve patient safety efforts even more.

The AHA lauded the ONC for recognizing that patient safety is a responsibility shared by vendors, clinicians, health care organizations and federal agencies; for establishing specific steps to encourage EHR vendors to take responsibility for the safe design, implementation and use of products; and for planning to take an approach that would build on “existing patient safety efforts across government programs and the private sector.”

The AHA, however, did offer up a couple of pointed recommendations.

First, the hospital group pointed out that the ONC’s plan paid very little attention to the need to develop a single, national approach to matching patients to their records.  The letter, which was written as response to a call for public comments, stated that the “inability to match patients across silos raises safety concerns about mismatches – incorrectly matching patients, or missing a match that should have been made.  In addition, without a single, national approach to patient matching, hospitals and health systems are forced to expend significant resources on expensive proprietary solutions to develop master patient indexes that apply only to that particular hospital or health system’s patients.”

The AHA also called attention to the role that health information exchanges could play in supporting patient safety.  As such, the AHA encouraged ONC to “focus considerable resources on advancing the more robust data exchange infrastructure necessary to support the sharing of health information.”  The letter pointed out that key pieces of HIE infrastructure such as technical support for the adoption and use of standards, affordable exchange networks and widely accessible provider directories are still missing.