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CloudView blog

Ideas and insights to help health care providers stay informed and profitable in today's challenging health care environment.

An Innovative Marriage of Patient Safety and Electronic Medical Records

by Stephanie Zaremba, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs

Last month, athenahealth partnered with Quantros, a patient safety organization (PSO) that provides leading cloud-based services for quality, safety, and clinical business intelligence solutions. Through this first-of-its-kind marriage between patient safety and health IT, we’re giving our clients (currently more than 47,000) access to the Quantros PSO—and we’re the first health IT vendor to offer this to providers via an electronic medical record (EMR). By partnering with Quantros and giving our clients access to Quantros’ PSO, we are also making good on one of our Code of Conduct commitments.

Over the past couple years, there have been an increasing number of conversations in Washington, D.C. regarding the impact that health information technology (IT) has on patient care and safety. Health IT certainly holds tremendous potential to improve the quality of care, simply by ensuring consistency and adherence to the highest standards of care. But it also has the potential, like any tool in health care, to create unintended consequences.

The real issue? We simply do not know the degree at which health IT impacts the delivery of care. Why? Because there is no safe, confidential, blame-free space for providers, patients, and health IT vendors to discuss when and why things might go wrong. Enter: patient safety organizations.

If you’re curious what a PSO is all about, here’s the short history: In 2005, Congress enacted the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act so that care providers could report patient safety issues to PSOs in an environment that would encourage learning, improvement, and, ultimately, prevention of future issues. PSOs were created as a “safe space,” in which reported issues and any discussion or investigation about those issues are privileged and confidential. Physicians and other care providers can openly discuss and learn without fear of being penalized for their openness.

That’s not to say that reporting to a PSO insulates a provider from liability, but it does protect specific conversations from being used against providers. The goal of PSO reporting is to ensure that we learn from mistakes made in medicine and prevent them from recurring, rather than sweeping them under the rug to avoid repercussions.

Openness and transparency are central to everything we do at athenahealth (you might remember our Meaningful Use “Open Kimono” a couple years back), and that extends to our efforts to continually improve patient safety. As the policy conversation in Washington continues to churn regarding how to ensure the safe use of health IT, we think the best way to contribute is to take action that enables us and our peers to finally learn from reported potential patient safety issues in health IT. Once the Quantros solution is fully implemented, our clients will be able to report any potential safety issues—health IT-related or not—to a PSO, and Quantros will work with our patient safety team to identify, analyze, and resolve any potential issues that do involve our EMR. Most important, Quantros will provide aggregated feedback both to our clients and to us that will allow athenahealth to convert lessons learned into proactive steps to prevent future problems.

You can be sure we’ll be sharing our findings from this partnership with the broader health IT community. Our hope is that our peer EMR companies will join us to form these types of PSO partnerships; then, it will only be a matter of time before the policy conversation is no longer speculation about how health IT might impact patient safety, but rather a focused discussion about promoting innovation and improvement so that health IT and patient safety can carry on in wedded bliss.

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Cloudview Blog

Ideas, insights and analysis to help physicians, medical groups and health systems stay informed and profitable in today's challenging health environment.

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