3 challenges inhibiting EHR use for patient safety research

Though the U.S. has spent more than $30 billion to incentivize the use of health information technology, digital data is not regularly used to improve patient safety. A recent examination of three commercially available EHRs identified three distinct challenges that impede the use of EHR data in patient safety research.

For the case study — published by Elsevier — researchers assessed both the technical and nontechnical EHR vulnerabilities at three separate health systems by examining test results communicated through the EHR, reviewing follow-ups with patients displaying abnormal test results and interviewing selected providers to determine their experience in communicating through the EHR.

Here are three barriers that hinder EHR use for patient safety research:

1. Access: The systems under examination often had superfluous restrictions to remote EHR data access for research purposes even when such access was approved by the local institutional review board. Researchers also encountered barriers regarding the type of EHR data that was accessible and had difficulties gaining entry to the network. The fear of data breaches is fueling caution in these instances. Researchers suggested that patient safety research projects should be deemed safe to conduct as long as the network is fitted with robust firewalls and advanced level three authentication procedures recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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2. Interpretation: Researchers found data interpretation to be obfuscated by the lack of structured data. This lack of structure led to data dumps of massive amounts of unsorted information. To find information on radiology tests, researchers had to comb through data on all pathology, for example. The team suggested a set of data standards should be implemented throughout the healthcare industry.

3. Collaboration: Examination revealed competing priorities between researchers and hospital IT personnel. IT teams have separate projects that concentrate their focus, which may hinder their ability to either cooperate or collaborate with the needs of patient safety researchers. Researchers suggested that additional IT personnel and the establishment of clinical data warehouses could facilitate easier cooperation between the two parties.

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