Monday, August 03, 2009

Making Hospitals Safer by Making Healthcare IT Safer

At my July 24, 2009 HC Renewal post "Inquiry to Joint Commission on points raised in my July 22, 2009 JAMA letter on HIT", I reproduced a letter I sent to the Joint Commission seeking their opinions on the issue of Health IT "hold harmless" and "defects nondisclosure" contractual terms. (See "Health Care Information Technology Vendors' Hold Harmless Clause - Implications for Patients and Clinicians", JAMA 2009;301(12):1276-1278 and my HIT difficulties website essay here.)

Those contractual terms cause hospital executives to violate Joint Commission safety standards and their own fiduciary responsibilities to people both providing and seeking care in hospitals. My inquiry was acknowledged, and I await a reply.

In Making Hospitals Safer for Patients, New York Times, Aug. 2, 2009 , Mark R. Chassin, president of The Joint Commission, wrote:

To the Editor:

Jim Hall makes an important point about the costs and preventability of harm caused by medical errors, but his suggestion for a National Medical Safety Board is not the answer. It is not sufficient to investigate health care “crashes” one at a time and hope to transform the health care system into one that performs more reliably.

Too often, the lessons learned are not easily transferable to other hospitals or even to other problems within the same organization.

The key to transforming our health care system into a safer one is to use proven quality improvement methods — already in use in high-risk fields like aviation and nuclear power — as part of everyday work ...

In a followup email to the Joint Commission, I pointed out to Dr. Chassin that this is the same key to improving the quality and safety of EHR, CPOE and other information technology-based medical devices.

I also pointed out that "Hold harmless" and "Defects nondisclosure" -- a.k.a. "gag clause" -- contractual methods (unless I'm mistaken, in which case we're all in jeopardy) are not used in building and deploying safety-critical devices found in the aviation and nuclear energy industries.

-- SS

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