Healthcare IT takes on patient safety

Not long ago, the idea of patient safety falling under the umbrella of responsibility of the healthcare IT department seemed inconceivable. But now, as automation becomes more directly involved in the provisioning of clinical care, patient safety has become a priority.

Not long ago, the idea of patient safety falling under the umbrella of responsibility of the healthcare IT department seemed inconceivable. But now, as automation becomes more directly involved in the provisioning of clinical care, patient safety has become a priority.

In a recent report, Gartner's Barry Hieb, a research director and physician with 32 years of experience in medical informatics, said that IT applications are evolving to support many facets of the clinical care process, which means that healthcare CIOs need to worry more than ever about the effects that the applications they manage will have on patient safety.  According to Hieb, "Pharmaceutical manufacturers, CDOs care delivery organizations, payer organizations (payers), regulatory agencies, quality assurance overseers and other organizations in the healthcare ecosystem must now include patient safety as one of the top priorities of their IT departments."  

In his analysis, Hieb notes that the goal of eliminating all medical errors is beyond healthcare's reach, but nonetheless, emerging IT automation capabilities will dramatically improve the ability of IT to favorably affect patient safety. For example, he muses that bar code technology can ensure proper medication administration at the time the administration will occur, and that radio frequency identification technology can determine the chain of custody of a medication to ensure its validity.  

The implications for healthcare IT departments are many. They include the need for clinical expertise; the need for a clinical support component to the IT budget; and the need to become increasingly proactive in helping their organizations understand how the information they process can be used to enhance patient safety, according to Hieb.

Meanwhile, vendors are stepping in to help. IBM on Monday announced plans to build a pilot system to illustrate the feasibility and benefits of a national health information network

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