Clinical IT safety under inspection in TechWatch study

The new NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in eHealth has launched a 12-month study into the safety of IT systems used in general practice, setting up a TechWatch website to track critical incidents.

The study, jointly led by Farah Magrabi, Michael Kidd, Teng Liaw and Enrico Coiera from the University of NSW and Flinders University, aims to evaluate the safety of using information technology in routine general practice work.

“Computers have huge benefits in general practice in terms of the quality, the safety and the efficiency of care,” Dr Magrabi said. “But at the same time, problems with computers can also introduce errors that may harm patients. What the TechWatch study is aiming to do is to look at the safety of IT in general practice, and we want to do that in routine care.”

The researchers have selected a random sample of 4000 GPs throughout the country and are inviting them to report critical incidents involving computers in their practice. Dr Magrabi said it was thought there were a number of incidents that routinely happen, from basic errors such as selecting the wrong dosage from drop-down menus to incidents in which prescribing software fails to generate a warning about an allergy or contra-indications even when they are recorded in the patient's notes.

“It could also be problems related to networks being down, printers not working – very basic things really but they do delay care, they do affect the quality of care and sometimes they have implications,” she said.

By tracking these incidents, interventions can be made to solve particular problem, she said. “If we start to see a pattern or something emerging we would definitely take that information to the appropriate people. One of my co-investigators, Professor Michael Kidd, a couple of years ago did a study looking at all patient safety incidents, not just those related to IT, and in that study they did find problems and had to call in a particular drug company relating to a problem with packaging of a vaccine.”

Invited participants are being asked to report incidents via a free 1800 TWATCH phone number (1800 892 824) and also via the TechWatch website. Participants can register for an account and can go online to look at the results. “We will be providing feedback to the participants about their own results, so by going online they can see some of those pictures that we can't describe over the phone,” Dr Magrabi said.

The researchers are asking participants to submit reports in de-identified form, and say any information obtained in connection with the TechWatch study that can be identified with a participant will remain confidential and will be disclosed only with permission. TechWatch has been declared as a quality assurance activity under the Commonwealth Qualified Privilege Scheme, meaning that the identity of the GP and the information they provide to the study database is protected and cannot be subpoenaed in legal action.

It is anticipated that the study will last 12 months and will hopefully be rolled out nationally. Information collected though the TechWatch study will be used by researchers to gain a better understanding of how to improve the safety of using computers in clinical practice and to guide the safe design and use of information technology in general practice.

TechWatch is the first of several initiatives of the new NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in eHealth, which was established earlier this year following a successful bid by the UNSW Centre for Health Informatics and Flinders University for funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

It aims to support the design, evaluation and translation of critical eHealth interventions and to contribute to national policy, focusing on eHealth safety, consumer eHealth technologies, and next generation evidence-based decision-support systems.

The CRE is offering a doctoral education program to health informatics PhD students in Australia and New Zealand, with online workshops being held every fortnight with a live video stream and online access to materials. Doctoral candidates can apply at any time.

The CRE is also offering PhD scholarships involving an annual tax-exempt stipend of $25,025 for three years full-time. Candidates may have a clinical or a technical background and applications are welcomed from those with a technical background in natural language processing, system modelling and simulation, bioinformatics, machine learning, systems safety, decision support, biosurveillance, social media/computing, virtual reality, human-computer interaction, mobile applications and web search technologies.

Scholarship applications close on July 31, 2012. For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Posted in Australian eHealth

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