Information technology can play a key role in improving the safety of care. Yet, despite this, patient safety solutions have low priority over IT investments.
When talking about this topic, as was the case yesterday at the national day conference on patient safety, the focus of the debate is on problem awareness, knowledge and training, observatories and detection systems, the importance of protocols and processes and, in general, prevention.
There are little emphasis and discussion on tools that can concretely reduce clinical risks and avoid errors. Comparing with road safety is like talking about accidents and the causes that determine them, but without thinking about measures that can reduce the number or consequences, such as seat belts, airbags, traction control systems.
Let’s take two examples where ICT technologies can really make a difference in terms of safety: the correct identification of the patient; the adverse effects caused by drugs.
The first is, unfortunately, very topical for the accident – the exchange of the blood bag – which took place a few days ago at the hospital in Vimercate that caused the death of the patient, an 84-year-old woman. Errors in patient identification often do not lead to fatal results, but sometimes, as in the case of blood transfusions or surgical procedures, they can be fatal or cause serious damage to the patient.
The technologies and systems for the correct identification of the patient and the control of the procedure to be performed are well established, are not particularly expensive and can be easily integrated with the applications present in hospitals.
Often, however, the priority in choosing IT investments goes to other, less important systems. Many hospitals, even though they have different information systems and advanced infrastructures, do not have a secure patient identification system. If this is the case, wristbands are used on which the most important patient data is printed; the recognition procedure is carried out visually.
When computerised, prescription systems for pharmaceutical therapy are, with a few exceptions, devoid of decision-support systems that can alert the doctor to the risks of adverse effects of the therapy. Yet adverse drug events and misdiagnoses are the most common causes of patient harm in primary and outpatient care, as the OECD Patient Safety Report points out.
Again, decision support systems are available, are not particularly expensive and can be easily integrated into hospital applications.
If patient safety is really to be pursued, it is necessary, as has been done in other areas of medicine or in other sectors (e.g. transport), to standardise and oblige healthcare facilities to equip themselves with systems and solutions for active patient safety. This is the only way to really prevent and reduce clinical errors. Technology can save lives if it is used properly.