Congresswoman queries Sebelius about health IT errors

By Mike Miliard
11:12 AM

Rep. Renee Ellmers sent a letter Thursday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in which she requested that HHS consider a study of health IT's benefits and cost effectiveness, with a focus on gauging medical error rates.

Ellmers (R NC-2), the chairwoman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology, told Sebelius that her subcommittee held a hearing in June, during which "physicians testified that the cost to purchase and maintain a health IT system, in addition to staff training and downtime during the transition to health IT, are significant burdens for small practices.”

[See also: Grassley inquires about hospitals’ IT experiences.]
In addition, Ellmers – a former nurse who also served as clinical director of Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn, N.C. – expressed concern about "recent news reports" spotlighting health IT errors.

"An article on the front page of Sunday’s Pittsburgh News-Gazette cited a baby who was killed when computerized IV equipment prepared a lethal dose of an intravenous sodium chloride solution," she wrote. "The machine did not catch the pharmacy technician’s error.  The article also noted that when a hepatitis C-positive kidney was accidentally transplanted from a live donor into a recipient, the physician team missed the electronic records alert, and the physicians complained that their electronic records system is cumbersome and difficult to adjust to any one physician’s needs.”

[See also: Senate examines health IT in improving healthcare delivery, cost.]

While acknowledging that "a modern, well-equipped office is critical to the practice of medicine" and that "health IT has the potential to improve healthcare delivery, decrease medical errors, increase clinical and administrative efficiency and reduce paperwork," Ellmers also cited a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study which found that 12 percent of computer-generated prescriptions contained errors.

“We must do all we can to ensure a commitment to our healthcare system and patient care," she wrote. "As technology rapidly evolves, I ask that you consider a study of health IT’s adoption, benefits and cost effectiveness.  As part of the study, I hope you will also consider medical error rates – both human and technological – so that all errors can be better assessed and prevented.”