Panel to study health IT's effects on patient safety

February 1, 2011

Concerned about patient safety related to potential malfunctions of health information technology, the Institute of Medicine is conducting a yearlong study and will issue recommendations for safe implementation of the technology.

Concerned about patient safety related to potential malfunctions of health information technology (IT), the Institute of Medicine is conducting a yearlong study and will issue recommendations for safe implementation of the technology. The Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology convened on December 14, 2010.

David Blumenthal, MD, national coordinator for health information technology, told The New York Times that "all options for assuring safety are on the table." One option may be to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to consider a range of new safety requirements. According to the Times account, FDA has received 260 reports of malfunctions related to health IT with the potential for patient harm, including 44 injuries and 6 deaths in 2008 and 2009. Malfunctions include disappearance of portions of a patient's electronic medical records or inclusion of a record in the wrong patient's file, as well as incorrect postings of drug allergies and blood pressure readings.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine identified numerous potential medical liability risks of electronic technologies, including documentation gaps that may be created in the transition from paper to electronic records; incorrect or missing data entries created through errors by new system users; information overload that may cause clinicians to miss important information; the temptation to copy and paste patient histories instead of taking new histories, posing the risk of missing new information; and perpetuating previous mistakes.

Freudenheim M. Panel set to study safety of electronic patient data. The New York Times. December 14, 2010: B3.

Mangalmurti SS, Murtagh L, Mello MM. Medical malpractice liability in the age of electronic health records. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(21):2060-2067.