Leveraging Health IT for Patient Safety | Joint Commission
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This blog shares experiences, case studies and news that add insight and value to the accreditation and certification journey.

Leveraging Health IT for Patient Safety

Mar 16, 2018 | 1683 Views

CastroBy Gerry Castro, PhD, MPH
Project Director for Patient Safety Initiatives in the Office of Patient Safety

The rapid pace of innovation and change in technology holds great potential to improve our patients’ health and the quality and safety of the care we provide them.

Nothing illustrates this better than the evolution of smart phones. Clinicians can access their patients’ information and receive clinical alerts through cell phones. 

Technology’s many benefits include: 

  • facilitating communication between healthcare providers and providers/patients,

  • giving clinicians easier access to their patients’ data

  • improving patients’ access to their own health information

However, with each innovation, a thoughtful and comprehensive approach must be taken to ensure the accuracy, timeliness, and security of patients’ information as well as the usability and clinical relevance of the innovation. 

There are plenty of headlines about ransomware, patient data vulnerabilities and user horror stories of technology making jobs more difficult or affecting the quality of patient care.

Multi-Disciplinary Technology Team

The Joint Commission recommends that prior to the adoption of new technology that not only technical factors, such as hardware and software, be considered, but also social factors such as:

  • intended users’ perceptions

  • impact on workflow

  • organizational safety culture1

A multi-disciplinary team is ideally suited for this task, involving: 

  • information technology

  • biomedical engineering

  • administration

  • clinician users

  • support staff 

Purchasing the Right Equipment

The initial assessment begins with purchasing process. There are a few key questions to ask before any big IT investment.

  • Was the product developed with user-centered design?

  • What kind of usability testing was performed?  

User-centered design is a structured process for ensuring that technology is designed to meet users’ cognitive, functional, and informational needs. When evaluating the results of usability tests, consider the number of testers, their clinical backgrounds, and other relevant demographics. The testers should ideally be similar to the intended users. 

Examining workflow and processes for risks and inefficiencies prior to implementing new technology can help resolve problems that the addition of new technology can exacerbate or, even worse, harm a patient. If, for example, there is a new device that provides critical information, is there a process for timely response?  Who receives the information?  What about during off hours?

The best health technology delivers clinically relevant information when it is needed. Ideally, it is seamlessly integrated into workflows and processes. Modifications to the system with additional technology made in a thoughtful and controlled manner will help ensure technology is safe and used safely, and the system is monitored for safety.

1Sentinel Event Alert 54: Safe use of health information technology: https://www.jointcommission.org/sea_issue_54/ 


Gerard M. Castro, PhD, MPH is the project director for patient safety Initiatives in the Office of Patient Safety at The Joint Commission. Castro was the principal investigator for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT project “Investigations of Health IT-related Deaths, Serious Injuries or Unsafe Conditions.”  He administers the Patient Safety Advisory Group (PSAG) which advises The Joint Commission on high-priority and emerging patient safety issues. He is also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation Foundation Board of Directors, the National Quality Forum Common Formats and Health IT Patient Safety and Expert Panels .

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