Health IT’s Role in Patient Safety, Patient-centered Care, and Learning Health Systems
Determining whether digitized information’s enormous power can improve patient care is at the root of many serious conversations about health information technology (IT). The good news is that evidence is mounting that using health IT can facilitate improvements in quality of care and patient safety.
Health IT's proponents—and I am one—have long predicted that the widespread implementation and meaningful use of health IT could bring significant benefits to the field. We've long envisioned a time when it could help streamline clinical processes for physicians and nurses, contribute huge swaths of valuable data for researchers, and enable health systems to more efficiently manage patients' health and payment information. In recent years, significant progress towards each of those goals has been achieved.
We have also envisioned the benefit to patients that could come from health IT. Our colleagues at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) have compiled a good deal of evidence (PDF, 281 KB) demonstrating how health IT promotes patient safety. The Institute of Medicine has chimed in with a report making recommendations for developing a framework for patient safety and health IT. And just this month, we’ve got additional research bolstering the case.
This new evidence comes courtesy of a recently published article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. AHRQ researchers analyzed trends in adverse drug events (ADEs) following passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.
AHRQ researchers found that ADEs in hospitals declined by 19 percent from 2010 to 2013, while "Meaningful Use" capabilities in hospitals increased 258 percent. AHRQ researchers also found that 22 percent of the decline in ADEs was attributable to hospitals that implemented electronic health record (EHR) systems with Meaningful Use capabilities.
That's 67,000 ADEs that didn't happen thanks to health IT. These are exciting results, because they offer further evidence of health IT's safety benefits.
As evidence of the link between EHRs and patient safety accumulates, it's important to continue connecting the dots between the technology and the patient. That's why AHRQ continues to invest in research that demonstrates how health IT can improve patient-centered outcomes and quality.
Finally, as you may know, AHRQ has advocated for the development of learning health systems for a while now. The element that sets a learning health system apart is its ability to generate and apply evidence systematically to improve care. Health IT plays a major role in that endeavor. It enables data to become usable information to generate evidence that is applied in practice, the results of which become more data to feed the next round of practice, and so on.
This continuous feedback loop or "virtuous cycle" is essential and at the heart of what it means to be a learning health care system. It's how we will truly harness the power of health IT to improve health care quality.
Page originally created March 2017