Top 3 Patient Safety Tips of 2015: Reducing Technology Risks > Michigan State Medical Society


Top 3 Patient Safety Tips of 2015: Reducing Technology Risks

By Carol Murray, RHIA, CPHRM, CPPS, Patient Safety Risk Manager, The Doctors Company

Although new technologies bring many benefits, they also bring new liability risks -- and 2015 could be considered a high-water mark for both new risks and increased prevalence of previously identified risks. The top three patient safety tips of 2015 addressed these risks.

  1. Telemedicine: Comply with HIPAA, HITECH, and state-specific laws when transmitting patient health information and follow state licensing requirements.

    Physicians must be aware of the risks associated with access, such as patient and staff privacy, inaccuracies in self-reporting, and symptoms that may only be caught in person. Additional legal considerations for online interactions, such as licensure compliance and professional liability coverage for out-of-state interactions, must be addressed for the protection of the physician and the patient.

    To reduce these liability risks:

    • Comply with all laws when transmitting all personal health information. Train staff on how to protect and secure your data
    • Clearly define proper protocols for webcams and web-based portals.
    • Use mechanisms to protect the privacy of individuals who do not want to be seen on camera (including staff members, other patients, or patients' families).
    • Check practice requirements and legal limitations in states where you anticipate providing care to patients.
    • Make certain that your professional liability policy extends coverage to all jurisdictions where you provide services.
  2. Medical equipment alarms: Enact policies to ensure alarms are never silenced.

    A main patient safety risk is alarm fatigue, where too-frequent alarms cause providers to override or disable them. When alarms are silenced or eliminated, a significant change in a patient's condition may go undetected. If there is a resultant harm to a patient, it is extremely difficult to mount an effective defense.

    The Joint Commission emphasizes policies that can help reduce the risks:

    • Policies should be in place and communicated to staff to never silence an alarm and should discourage the use of patient-owned medical equipment without alarms in clinical settings.
    • Any medical device equipped with an alarm should be evaluated annually for preventive maintenance.
  3. Electronic health records (EHRs): Ensure that implementation includes thorough staff and provider training.

    Weaknesses include inaccurate entries that are repeated throughout the record; faulty interfaces between companion systems; greater potential for breaches, resulting in loss of patient privacy; over-reliance on the system by staff, leaving less time to spend with patients; changes in medical record information due to system updates; and difficulty in standardizing the legal medical record for consistency in response to requests for records.

    To reduce exposure to EHR risks:

    • Ensure implementation includes thorough staff and provider training.
    • Establish guiding policies and procedures and designate an ongoing workgroup or individual to address problems in either support systems or the software itself.
    • Maintain an ongoing relationship with the vendor to communicate software issues.
    • Conduct a periodic review of metadata reports that identify name, date, and time of access -- a useful way to monitor inappropriate access to the record by staff.
    • Conduct medical record audits at least quarterly.

Contributed by The Doctors Company. For more patient safety articles and practice tips, visit

Posted in: Quality and Patient Safety, Hot Topics, News for Practices