Strategies for health IT success from risk managers

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Debating the role of becoming an expert in health IT, risk managers across hospital systems in the U.S. shared their tips for health IT success in a recent report published by Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based nonprofit research firm ECRI Institute.

Namely, risk managers are dealing with the opportunities--and sometimes, drawbacks--that using electronic health records can pose. "It's an opportunity and a threat. Where else should the risk manager be?" said Brian LaSalle, director of claims at Lehigh Valley Health Network, a three hospital system located in Allentown, Pa. Lehigh has converted to electronic systems, and also is recognized by the American Hospital Association as being among the "100 Most Wired" hospitals.

Carolyn Coleman, Lehigh Valley's director of risk management, pointed out in the report that health IT is just like any other technology, in that it's able to solve problems, but also can create new ones before it's fully figured out.

Converting to EHR systems is a "huge change in the way healthcare is delivered," Dean F. Sittig, a professor at the School of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said in the report. Sittig has conducted extensive research on safely implementing EHR systems in order to avoid unintended consequences from system malfunctions, inadequate data transfers and poorly configured systems.

Meanwhile, early involvement is one way to ensure a smooth EHR implementation, according to Karen P. Zimmer, medical director of ECRI Institute PSO. "The risk manager should be involved in all stages of the health IT project and should not be brought in only at the end when there's a problem," she said.

Adopting an enterprise-wide perspective also is important, as is becoming familiar with the IT department, according to Sittig. It can be a culture shock, he said, when IT and clinical staff get together. To that end, the report suggested, touting problem-solving skills--identifying issues and working across groups to solve them--is key.

Georgette Samaritan, senior risk manager and patient safety consultant with Atlanta-based MAG Mutual Insurance Company, recently noted that unlike errors found in a paper record, correcting an electronic error may override the initial error, making it look like there was never a mistake. Ultimately, she said, that can lead to even bigger problems.

"If you should ever be sued for malpractice, your EHR can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how accurately patient records are kept," Samaritan said.

To learn more:
- read the ECRI Institute report (.pdf)

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