Health IT not living up to its promise

Patient Safety Monitor Insider

October 7, 2015

When health information technology tools support medical diagnostic teams, they can improve diagnoses, says the Institute of Medicine. Yet there have been "few demonstrations that health IT actually improves diagnosis in clinical practice."
Diagnostic errors can be reduced or averted by the use of health information technology, the federal government's HIT headquarters, the Office of the National Coordinator, contends.
"With EHRs, providers can have reliable access to a patient's complete health information. This comprehensive picture can help providers diagnose patients' problems sooner," the agency's website says, confidently.
But last week, members of the Coalition to End Diagnostic Errors met in Washington to huddle over a sweeping Institute of Medicine report that challenges that conclusion.
The IOM report's authors note that when health IT tools support diagnostic teams and reflect "human-centered design principles," they can improve diagnoses. "Despite this potential, however, there have been few demonstrations that health IT actually improves diagnosis in clinical practice. Indeed, many experts are concerned that current health IT tools are not effectively facilitating the diagnostic process and may be contributing to diagnostic errors."

No contradiction there. As with any technology, its impact is driven in part by design, purpose, the user, and his or her skill at using it. The U.S. healthcare system was late to the digital revolution and, despite huge government subsidies, it is, arguably, still on a learning curve.

Health IT is part of almost every stop on the diagnostic journey: electronic medical records, clinical decision support, patient engagement tools, CPOE (computerized physician order entry), lab and imaging information systems, and health information exchanges.

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