For all of the purported benefits of health IT, there are nagging questions about how disruptive technology can be and its impact on patient safety. ONC last week sought to tackle some of those concerns with a new health IT safety blueprint.

Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan updates a draft plan the agency released last December and is a response to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report that called upon the government to develop a national health IT safety plan. The IOM report noted that there is limited data on health IT-related medical errors.

The key takeaway for hospital leaders is to start thinking proactively about the role health IT might have in resolving or even causing safety issues, as well as how to incorporate technology into their safety awareness culture, says Jacob Reider, M.D., chief medical officer for health IT at ONC.

"We are not trying to be punitive here," he says. "The key to a culture of safety is that we review our current practices in a nonjudgmental way, so that we can get to the root cause of problems and resolve them. And the only way to do that is if we dig deep, really understand what we're trying to achieve and best understand where our safety vulnerabilities are, and then how we can resolve them collaboratively."

One key change from the draft plan is the addition of the Joint Commission into the effort. HHS awarded the accreditation entity a contract to help detect and address any potential health-IT related safety issues in varying settings. Those involved expect to release a tool kit in the fall that will help providers to assess their current safety cultures and start to incorporate IT best practices. Reider says he expects the government to work closely with the entire industry — from software developers to doctors and patients — because they're all looking at different data and can provide different perspectives on how to improve.

The plan spells out various ways to help better gather info on health IT, including making it simpler for clinicians to report IT-related incidents, encouraging providers to report to patient safety organizations through standardized forms, and training surveyors to identify unsafe practices associated with health IT.

"The data that each of us can see is different and if we aggregate that information and share it with each other in some way under the right legal structure, we can actually learn incredible things from each other, and then work together to resolve the issues," Reider says.

Chantal Worzala, director of policy for the American Hospital Association, hopes there's a particular emphasis placed on learning during the implementation of the safety plan. She says the AHA is encouraging hospitals to role their IT safety improvement efforts with their overall patient safety strategy to help foster success.

"Hospitals generally think about safety for the organization as a whole," she says. "So our perspective in looking at this is to ensure that health IT is integrated into the overall safety environment of a hospital, and becomes one of the many factors that they’re looking at."

What's your hospital doing to better understand health IT's role in resolving or contributing to patient safety concerns? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.