Congresswoman Renee Ellmers prods HHS on IOM safety recommendations

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The chair of the House Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology, who in June asked U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for a status report on the agency's health IT patient-safety efforts, has sent another letter asking why she hasn't heard back.

Subcommittee chair Rep. Renee Ellmers (pictured) previously asked that Sebelius reply by July 12 on action taken to address recommendations in an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, issued last November.

Ellmers, a Republican from North Carolina and a registered nurse, asked for, among other things:

  • A copy of Sebelius' plan to minimize safety risks and a schedule for HHS' work with the private sector, as recommended by IOM--or information about when they'd be completed
  • Specific information on reports of health IT-related errors
  • The status of the development of a mechanism to report patient deaths and other health IT-related safety issues
  • Other actions taken and progress made by HHS on health IT safety

The IOM report cited an "urgent need" for a research agenda for safety issues related to electronic medical records technology and urged that such a plan be in place within 12 months.

"Now, just after the one-year anniversary of IOM's report, we have heard nothing from the department about the status of any of my requests. Meanwhile, we continue to see media reports of patient safety risks related to health IT," she wrote in the letter.

The IOM report proposed that a new agency be set up to monitor health IT-related safety issues, rather than have the Food and Drug Administration do it. It pointed out that there was little published evidence  to quantify the magnitude of the risk involved with the use of EHRs and that "contract barriers" in vendor agreements, such as confidentiality and nondisclosure clauses prevent healthcare organizations from sharing information about EHR-related patient-safety issues.

Patient/data mismatches in EHRs and other health IT systems ranked among the top 10 health technology hazards recently named by the ECRI Institute.

In a report published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team from two Texas medical schools propose a framework for protecting patient safety when using electronic health records. Their recommendations include addressing safety concerns unique to EHR technology, such as medication errors from mismatched coding.

To learn more:
- read the letter

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EHR safety: IOM report a good start, but more can be done
Framework proposed for minimizing EMR safety problems
Health information errors cited among top 10 health IT hazards