ONC reveals patient safety plan for health IT systems

Federal healthcare reform legislation is designed to transform the U.S. healthcare industry in a number of important ways. In addition to improving the accessibility and affordability of healthcare for thousands of Americans who were without proper coverage in years past, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is working to boost the overall quality and accuracy of medical services.

One of the ways that the ACA has sought to better healthcare as a whole has been through emphasizing the adoption and implementation of health information technology, particularly electronic health records. These devices are quickly replacing the old filing systems used in many orthopaedic and other medical practices, allowing doctors and their staff to work faster, more efficiently and with greater accuracy. These benefits work to bolster the cost-effectiveness of daily operations while also providing patients with a higher quality of care. However, the federal government is closely monitoring the progress of health IT and EHR adoption to ensure patients' best interests are kept in mind.

Finalized ONC patient safety initiative
According to Healthcare IT News, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology recently released its official guidelines for improving patient safety and security via EHR systems and related devices. While health IT is designed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of care, the federal government has recognized a number of problem areas and common medical errors that have occurred in the early days of implementation.

Known as the Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan, this effort from the ONC is under the direction of the newly formed Health IT Patient Safety Program. The initiative has a number of provisions that will boost transparency and accountability of doctors' daily medical practices, such as improved reporting of errors and difficulties related to health IT systems.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also work to standardize patient safety reporting practices in healthcare operations throughout the U.S, while the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will expand the scope of reporting to include ambulatory care and patient safety organizations. The ONC and CMS will then use information gathered from error reports to improve health IT guidelines and requirements.

"When implemented and used properly, health IT is an important tool in finding and avoiding medical errors and protecting patients," said Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the ONC's national coordinator for health IT, in a statement. "This plan will help us make sure that these new technologies are used to make healthcare safer."

Working to improve the future of health IT
While the main crux of the ONC's Health IT Patient Safety and Surveillance Plan is to improve medical error reporting by care providers, the federal government is also hoping to learn from this information in order to pave the way for more successful medical technology in the future. HealthData Management reported that government health IT officials are planning to take a number of steps to fuel better EHR and health IT system development.

For example, the ONC will be working to emphasize comprehensive training and education initiatives among state governments and private industry groups in order to boost awareness of EHR benefits and responsible usage. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will teach families and patients on proper health IT guidelines to improve the effectiveness of EHR systems outside of their doctors' offices. As EHRs are designed to extend the scope of healthcare to improve patient access and control over their billing procedures, medical records and care recommendations, education is important for minimizing medical errors.