Government and Regulations

Policy Corner: An Inside Look at the Most Pressing Policy Issues


In early November, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report on the current status of health information technology (HIT). Although the report was developed at the request of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), the arm within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for promoting the use of HIT, not everything in the report was positive—and could leave the impression that HIT is not quite as successful as some think.

The report recommends that the ONC should work with the private and public sectors to make comparative user experiences across vendors publicly available.

Many hospitalists have developed significant expertise with HIT, played significant roles in its effective implementation and use, and are acutely aware of implementation pitfalls. This practical experience could be very helpful in working with the ONC to develop solutions. It is for this reason that hospitalists should reach out to the ONC and offer their expertise instead of waiting for the ONC to act.

The report, “Patient Safety and Health IT: Building Safer Systems for Better Care,” did praise HIT’s potential for eventual cost savings and increased patient safety but stopped short of being a ringing endorsement of the pace HM is taking toward implementation initiatives, such as meaningful use. An overall theme of the report is that greater oversight of HIT is needed to protect patients from potential medical errors associated with its use.

Despite the myriad problems that can arise if implementation moves too fast, HIT holds promise and has shown success when done well.

A few of the recommendations given by the IOM to achieve a greater level of safety range from the establishment of a mechanism for vendors and users to report health IT-related deaths, injuries, or unsafe conditions to possible FDA regulation of the systems themselves.

Information-sharing and reporting in a nonpunitive environment, as recommended by the IOM, would go a long way when it comes to remedying or avoiding IT-related problems, and hospitalists probably have some ideas about how this could be done.

Unfortunately, IT vendor contracts often prevent the open sharing of information, so working toward doing away with such contract terms might be a worthy step before making a push toward overall FDA regulation and the unintended consequences that may come with it.

At first glance, FDA regulation seems like the easiest solution because the FDA can theoretically control every aspect of what might go wrong with HIT, but at what cost would such regulation come? FDA approval can be long, complicated and expensive. The whole process could result in cutting-edge technology becoming outdated by the time approval is granted or innovations being overlooked entirely because of a negative cost-benefit analysis. Furthermore, the expense associated with FDA approval could in turn increase the cost of already costly electronic health records (EHR).

Despite the myriad problems that can arise if implementation moves too fast, HIT holds promise and has shown success when done well.

SHM is currently working to position hospitalists as a resource for the ONC, so hospitalists with expertise in this area should not hesitate to come forward with ideas on how to make HIT work better and more safely. HIT is not going to go away, so the best option is to help make it better.

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