Health IT Stands Out In Health Technology Hazards List

Posted on November 30, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The ECRI Institute has just released its annual list of top 10 health technology hazards, and this year, two of the hazards are health IT related. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s still worth noting, as it’s easy to get embroiled in abstract IT discussions and forget concrete patient risks, wouldn’t you agree?

For context, here’s ECRI’s list for 2013 in its entirety:

1.  Alarm hazards
2.  Medication administration errors using infusion pumps
3.  Unnecessary radiation exposures and radiation burns
during diagnostic radiology procedures
4.  Patient/data mismatches in EHRs and other health IT
(HIT) systems
5.  Interoperability failures with medical devices and health
IT systems
6.  Air embolism hazards
7.  Inattention to the needs of pediatric patients when using “adult”
techniques
8.  Inadequate reprocessing of endoscopic devices and surgical
instruments
9.  Caregiver distractions from smartphones and
other mobile devices
10. Surgical fires

As you can see, two of the top five are EMR-related, and perhaps more importantly, are risks that don’t get discussed that often in health IT watering holes such as this publication.  But it’s hard to argue that patient/data mismatches could pose severe risks up to including death, as could interoperability problems between medical devices and healtlh IT systems.

While ECRI doesn’t, I’d also count number nine, mobile device distractions, as I’m betting much of the distraction clinicians face comes from clinical communication, not idle chatter.  And while I don’t know how ECRI ranks its choices, I’d bet it actually belongs higher on the list.

I’m not going to sound like much of a prophet when I predict that health IT  problems will take over more slots on the list over time.  For example, when infusion pumps are linked with EMRs, interchange of data will almost certainly become a life or death issue.

In the mean time, dealing with mobile device distraction may be the lowest hanging fruit of the bunch. I don’t know how to do it, but if a vendor comes up with a solution that elegantly streamlines doctor communication on mobile devices, it’s likely to be a big hit.