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Safety Plan for Electronic Records Released By Government

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed in 2010. However, it was only last year that its constitutionality was upheld, and it is only this year (and subsequent years) that much of the plan actually takes effect. We can expect much discussion, argument, and confusion related to the bill as it rolls out. Hopefully the goals outlined in the measure are met and healthcare for all of us becomes more affordable and safer.

One of the most well-known components of the bill include a push to move toward electronic health records (EHRs). It seems natural that as technology advances the medical community would take advantage of the many benefits of electronic records, with easy storage, comparison, transfer, and safety checks. Of course, the switch is not without its issues, as it is incumbent that the transfer be done carefully to avoid issues like theft, unauthorized transmission, or glitches which risk the health and safety of patients.

Federal Government Patient Safety Plan
To help with that smooth transition, the federal government recently released information on a patient safety plan as it relates to EHRs. The Boston Globe recently provided a helpful story that discusses the situation.

The new plan was released by the federal agency charged with overseeing the switch to EHRs–The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The effort is entitled, “Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan” and it is now available for public comment. In releasing the report the officials noted that ensuring safety will be a joint effort, needing investment from many different actors including the IT industry, medical community, patient safety groups, and the government. You can view the full report for yourself by clicking here.

Many Concerns
These guidelines come on the heels of an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report from last year which raised alarm bells about the risks posed by EHRs. The IOM report shared different concerns that many in the industry were making about the lack of government action on the safety front. In particular, the institute shared specific cases where patients suffered serious injury or even died as a result of poor safety related to electronic records and medical malpractice.

Since these guidelines are the first crack at getting the potential problem under control, there will undoubtedly be many suggestions on what can be improved. In roughly summarizing the approach, one involved partied noted that “It’s this challenging chicken-and-egg problem. The plan, which is subject to public comment through Feb. 4, is a reasonable start, in part because it puts more pressure on hospitals and doctors to monitor safety.”

An important decision was made not to make certain aspects of this safety process mandatory. That is because there was a risk that innovation might have been stifled if a single approach was adopted and forced upon everyone. Considering this is all very new, it is logical for different stakeholders to explore the various options that might work best to promote patient safety. Hopefully, with the extra leeway at the start, these entities can find strategies that work best which can then be adopted by other institutions down the road. It will be interesting to see how all of this develops in the coming months.

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