Ask your neighbor or a nurse about the use of information technology (IT) in healthcare, and chances are they’ll talk to you about electronic health records, which dominate public discussion about health IT.
Electronic health records are a good first step, but represent only one aspect of how IT can improve America’s healthcare system by making it seamless and safer.
There’s so much more that technology can do in healthcare.
Today – as in, right now – there are practical, high-tech solutions that reduce medical errors and save lives. As the federal government gears up to provide billions of dollars in financial incentives to physicians and hospitals over the next few years to incorporate health IT into their daily workflow in caring for patients, it’s important to ensure these life-saving solutions are broadly implemented, so that taxpayer money pays for something more – and something more meaningful – than electronic health records alone.
The federal government is currently deciding what technologies it will give financial incentives to providers and hospitals for adopting, and what technologies it won’t subsidize. The term the government is using to describe its decision is “meaningful use.” If a technology has a meaningful use in improving patient care and outcomes, the government will help providers and hospitals pay for it. If it doesn’t, then the government won’t help pay for the technology. The definition of “meaningful use” is what the government is wrestling to come up with now. The final decision will affect the lives of anyone who provides or receives care in the American health system.
After all, what could be of more meaningful use to providers, hospitals and patients alike than technologies that improve the quality of care and reduce the chance of medical errors, saving money and lives in the process?
What’s at Stake
An estimated 1.5 million medication errors occur annually. Adverse drug events can cost hospitals an average of $8,750 each. Meanwhile, nurses spend only one-third to one-half of their time on actual patient care. It is a known fact in the healthcare industry that there is a correlation between the number of errors and working in a high-stress environment. Effective patient safety technology can also help streamline workflow to help ease provider concerns about the increased amount of time they are spending away from patients. And it can have a direct impact exactly at the point where most mistakes occur – at the patient bedside.
For example, the potential reach of intravenous (I.V.) medication safety technology is vast. More than 90 percent of patients receive some form of I.V. therapy while in the hospital, and 54 percent of adverse events involve administering incorrect I.V. medications.
One example: smart pumps that prevent errors
My company manufactures a “smart pump” for administering medication that can curtail those adverse events. The smart pump includes safety software technology that is a vast improvement over typical I.V. drug administration. Smart pumps contain a drug library database and software that help providers define the dosing limits for each drug, as developed by the hospital pharmacy. As a result, the smart pump prevents medication errors by alerting clinicians if the dosage is not within the defined limits. The software also tracks how often errors are prevented so administrators know if staff re-training is necessary and pharmacists can analyze their recommended dosages to ensure they meet patient needs.
Most important, Hospira uses an open architecture for its software. That means our technologies can communicate consistently and effectively with other health IT solutions, such as electronic health records and bar code point-of-care systems - allowing for patient identification using barcodes on the patient hospital bracelet and resulting in closed-loop I.V. medication administration with smart pumps. This process enables the hospital to check for errors in the accuracy of the drug, dose, patient, time, and route of administration. With closed-loop I.V. medication administration, drug delivery is more automated, the potential for errors and the time it takes to administer I.V. meds decreases, and the potential for safety increases.
The bottom line: Smart pumps are just one example of existing health IT that streamlines the workload of providers and helps prevent errors.
Our government is about to put billions of our dollars into health IT. Let’s make sure it pays for technologies that make a real difference in patient care.
Chris Begley is chairman and CEO of Hospira, Inc., which is a member of the Coalition for a Competitive Pharmaceutical Market.