How digital health could reshape the concept of patient safety

By Brian Dolan
07:21 am

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNews[Join MobiHealthNews and Adventist Health for today's webinar at 2PM ET as we discuss patient safety from both a patient and a provider perspective. Registration is free!]

There's a great publication from a few years ago, now freely available on the NIH's website, called Defining Patient Safety and Quality -- an Evidence-based Handbook for Nurses. Its two authors -- both academics and nurses by training -- discuss various takes on definitions for "patient safety", like the Institute of Medicine's -- “the prevention of harm to patients.” A care delivery system that is designed with patient safety in mind aims to prevent errors, learn from the errors that do occur, and build a culture of safety that involves healthcare professionals, organizations, and patients -- according to the group.

It's notable that patients are on the list. As digital health tools extend care delivery beyond the four walls of the clinic, efforts to ensure patient safety need to extend with them. The nurse's handbook goes on to reference AHRQ which offers up its own definition of prevention of harm: “freedom from accidental or preventable injuries produced by medical care” and notes that patient safety-related practices are “those that reduce the risk of adverse events related to exposure to medical care across a range of diagnoses or conditions.”

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The rise of digital health will eventually markedly change the conversation around patient safety. Just as healthcare services will move toward preventive health, what is considered a "medical error" in the future will change with it.

In the early years of mobile and digital health the prospect of liability issues arising from remotely treating patients was a frequent discussion topic. Common refrain: What if the network dropped out during an important transmission of vital signs? Since then the piloted and deployed use cases for digital health have become much more level-headed than the imagines use cases of a decade ago, and the liability question has taken a backseat.

Early proponents of digital health, however, predicted that in the not-too-distant future healthcare providers would be in hot water -- not for opting to use virtual care services and patient-facing tools -- but for not offering them. They predicted that the idea of not providing care to patients -- wherever they were -- would be considered a patient safety failure, in effect, a medical error.

Efficacy data for digital health tools needs to become much more overwhelming if such a future were to come to pass, but more remote patient monitoring offerings are in the market today than ever before. The technology is there. Payment models are changing. Is a re-conceptualization of patient safety too far behind?

Join MobiHealthNews for a discussion on patient safety and digital health this afternoon at 2PM ET -- sign up for free right here! We'll also hear from healthcare system Adventist Health as they share some of the ways they are leveraging mobile and digital health tools today with an eye on patient safety. Bring your questions for the Q&A, too. Register right here -- and see you all in a few hours!