Executive Summary

Noting that too many errors related to health information technology (HIT) are resulting in adverse consequences, The Joint Commission (TJC) has issued a Sentinel Event Alert, urging health care providers to take steps to improve their safety culture, approach to process improvement, and leadership in this area. In this latest alert, the accrediting agency is taking particular aim at risks posed by sociotechnical factors – or the ways in which HIT is implemented and used. Experts say that many of these risks are, in fact, exemplified at a higher level in the emergency setting, where providers are under constant pressure to see more patients and move them though the system faster.

  • In an analysis of 3,375 sentinel events that resulted in permanent patient harm or death between January 1, 2010, and June 20, 2013, The Joint Commission (TJC) found that 120 events included HIT-related contributing factors.
  • Many of the problems cited by TJC relate to orders or medicines being prescribed for the wrong patients. These can result from toggling errors or pop-up screens where providers are asked to click on the appropriate patient or medicine, and they mistakenly click on the wrong selection.
  • In the ED, experts recommend the creation of a multidisciplinary performance improvement group to continuously monitor the ED information system (EDIS), recognize problems, and work with the vendor to resolve them. Also important is a quick and easy way for providers to report HIT-related problems.
  • Experts add that emergency providers need to be fully engaged in the process of selecting HIT that they will be using, and that health care organizations should arrange for usability assessments before purchasing HIT.