Hospitals are not reporting cases of harm to patients; electronic health records may be key to solving the problem

By Tara Kaprowy
Kentucky Health News

Hospitals aren’t reporting cases in which medical care harmed a patient, making it difficult for providers to identify problems and fix them, according to a report to be released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report indicates many hospitals are ignoring state regulations by not reporting preventable problems. In Kentucky, there are no mandatory public reporting requirements for hospitals. They must only inform the state Department of Public Health about infectious outbreaks, but the definition of an outbreak varies from facility to facility, based on the number of patients seen in a specific period of time.

Dr. Kevin Kavanaugh, a retired physician and chairman of Health Watch USA, said the report points to “the need for greater health care transparency and state government engagement.”

The study’s lead researcher, Lee Adler, is looking to electronic health records to set things right since “we may be able to prevent events, we may be able to ameliorate events, and (electronic records) may become your surveillance system,” he said.

The software can be designed to “catch triggers for potential errors,” Kelly Kennedy reports for USA Today. One example could involve a patient that is given an antidote after a medication overdose. The fact that the antidote was used would trigger an alert to a hospital quality control officer, who would them follow up in turn. (Read more)

About half of doctors are using EHRs nationwide, the latest survey from the Department of Health and Human Services shows. “That’s a pretty high number, historically speaking,” reports Sarah Kliff for The Washington Post. “As recently as 2005, just about a quarter of doctors’ offices had gone digital.”

In February, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the percentage of hospitals using electronic health records has doubled in two years, Medical News Today reports. The shift at doctors’ offices and hospitals stems from a provision in the federal health-care reform law, which gives financial incentives to facilities that switch over to EHRs.

In Kentucky, 723 eligible professionals and 15 hospitals have already been paid their incentives, which totaled more than $155 million as of May. In February, Sebelius said almost 2,000 hospitals and more than 41,000 doctors had received more than $3 billion in incentive payments to use health information technology. The proportion of hospitals that now use EHRs went up from 16 percent in 2009 to 35 percent in 2011. More than 80 percent of hospitals said they intend to advantage of the incentives by 2015.

Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community
Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the
University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy
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