Getting a Grip on Health IT Errors

To err may be human, but computers can contribute to those screw-ups.

With that in mind, two Texas-based medical researchers are proposing a definition for health IT-related errors that includes:

  • System unavailability.
  • System malfunctions.
  • User error.
  • Incorrect interaction with another system that results in data being lost or incorrectly entered, displayed or transmitted.

The suggestions, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, are intended to help define, measure and analyze health IT-related hazards to patient safety, according to a synopsis of the article, "Defining Health Information Technology-Related Errors: New Developments Since To Err is Human."

The title refers to a 2000 report by the Institute of Medicine, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," which focused attention on mistakes made by health-care providers. The report concluded that as many as 98,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors. Proponents of health IT have used the report to rally support for electronic health records and other technologies as a means of mitigating the impact of human error.

The authors of the new report, Dean F. Sittig of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center and Hardeep Singh of the Baylor College of Medicine, say they want to lay the groundwork for an Institute of Medicine committee that will sift through information on how health IT affects patient safety.