HIT systems among top 10 health tech hazards, says ECRI

Health IT may promise a new paradigm of patient care, but it's also fraught with complexity and the potential for error. A new report from ECRI Institute, which researches best practices to improve care delivery, outlines the top 10 health technology hazards for 2013, and health IT systems are disconcertingly close to the top.

ECRI's 6th annual “Top 10 Health Technology Hazards list” is designed to raise awareness of the potential dangers associated with the use of medical devices and systems. A popular roadmap for healthcare providers to prioritize their technology safety initiatives, the list features key topics that warrant particular attention for the coming year with actionable recommendations on addressing them.  

The top 10 hazards listed in ECRI Institute’s report are:

  1. Alarm hazards
  2. Medication administration errors using infusion pumps
  3. Unnecessary radiation exposures and radiation burns during diagnostic radiology procedures
  4. Patient/data mismatches in EHRs and other health IT systems
  5. Interoperability failures with medical devices and health IT systems
  6. Air embolism hazards
  7. Inattention to the needs of pediatric patients when using “adult” technologies
  8. Inadequate reprocessing of endoscopic devices and surgical instruments
  9. Caregiver distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices
  10. Surgical fires

[See also: ECRI names top 10 healthcare tech dangers.]

Three of the 10 topics on the list are directly associated with the still-maturing health IT field, where the interplay between complexity and effectiveness and potential harm is most evident; several of the other topics are peripherally related to HIT issues.


“The inherent complexity of HIT-related medical technologies, their potential to introduce new failure modes, and the possibility that such failures will affect many patients before being noticed – combined with federal incentives to meet meaningful use requirements – leads us to encourage healthcare facilities to pay particular attention to health IT when prioritizing their safety initiatives for 2013,” says James P. Keller, Jr., vice president, health technology evaluation and safety, ECRI Institute.

One particularly “troubling” aspect regarding patient/data mismatches in EHRs and other health IT systems, the report reads, “is that some of the capabilities that make health IT systems so powerful – their ability to collect data from and transmit data to a variety 
of devices and systems, for example – can serve to multiply the effects of such errors to a degree that would have been unlikely in a paper-based system.”

"Healthcare organizations are receiving financial incentives from the U.S. government to rapidly adopt this technology," added Keller. "As with any computer-based system they provide tremendous benefits but errors in using the software or software bugs can cause serious problems."