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A Nice Surprise

May 1, 2007
by Anthony Guerra
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The skeptic in me sometimes fears that hospitals and health systems are run just like any other business, with everything boiling down to what's good for the bottom line. So it's heartening when a study comes out that shows running a healthcare institution is about more than money.

In the 18th annual HIMSS leadership survey, CIOs made it known that their number one priority is not tightening up the revenue cycle, but rather investing in and deploying IT directly related to patient safety. Those systems include computerized provider order entry, clinical information systems and electronic medical records (EMR).

We've devoted a large chunk of this issue to the EMR. In a series of three stories, plus a number of contributed pieces, we look at how health systems are moving beyond the first iteration of EMRs to further tap their functionality.

But let's not get crazy with thoughts of altruistic executive committees. Smart CEOs know that the trends of increased outcomes and pricing transparency, along with consumer-directed healthcare, mean greater patient safety translates into better business. In the "Consumer Reports€VbCrLf world of healthcare that we're entering, quality does matter.

I was recently reminded of how IT can improve patient safety by a friend of mine. He received a call from his doctor's office after leaving work that went something like this:

"Hello Mr. X. Doctor Y got the results from your blood pressure cuff. He wants to double your dose of blood pressure medication.€VbCrLf

"Are you sure? I haven't worn a blood pressure cuff in over a year.€VbCrLf

"Hold on please.€VbCrLf

€¦a few minutes passed

"Mr. X. I'm very sorry. We pulled the wrong chart. There are actually three patients here with the same name as you.€VbCrLf

While no harm came from this incident, it does illustrate how paper can equal errors. It's doubtful that an electronic chart accessed by a medical record identifier or social security number would come up with the incorrect patient.

But while IT can go a long way to creating a safer healthcare environment, it's important to remember that a sound workflow, attention to detail, and provider buy-in are also critical to getting the most out of a technology investment.

In our June 2006 issue, Jim Feldbaum, M.D., cautioned:

"Remember that a flawed process, whether electronic or on paper, will generate an unacceptably high number of errors and will produce them with a level of variation that will thwart attempts to provide safe and quality care. Making a flawed practice electronic will just accelerate the rate at which it becomes a safety concern.€VbCrLf -

So perhaps designing a sound workflow and adding some IT can take the healthcare industry to the patient-safety promised land it appears to be seeking.

Look for more extensive coverage of the HIMSS survey in our June issue.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief