HIM Professionals Play Key Role in Taking Patient Safety Beyond the Clinical Setting

HIM Professionals Play Key Role in Taking Patient Safety Beyond the Clinical Setting

By Jeff Surges

Two decades ago, with its groundbreaking To Err is Human report, the Institute of Medicine sounded an alarm on patient safety that reverberates today, and reminds us of how much still needs to be done on this critical issue.

A recent report by the World Health Organization shines a light on the problem with some disturbing statistics. For example, hospital-acquired infections affect up to one in 10 patients globally, and as many as four out of 10 patients are harmed while receiving care in primary care and outpatient settings, with up to 80 percent of the harm considered to have been preventable.

This is an issue that demands the close attention of leaders at all levels of health systems and other healthcare delivery organizations―including health information management (HIM) professionals. Today, as a result of advances in technology that enable the healthcare industry to use better tools to track, manage, and analyze safety events, HIM professionals invariably play an essential role in their organizations’ patient safety improvement initiatives.

From Paper to Digital

When To Err is Human was first released, the healthcare system was mired in a paper era and resorted to printouts to report adverse events, which generally resulted in stacks of papers with no way to leverage data.

Today, due in large part to the efforts of HIM professionals to audit, govern, and help others comply with policies through patient safety technology, the adverse-event reporting process is more efficient, effective, and intuitive. Medical incidents are now tracked and reported digitally, enabling healthcare organizations to capture richer data and deliver a more thorough analysis and understanding of safety trends.

Nonetheless, much remains to be accomplished in terms of patient safety improvements, particularly as healthcare organizations transition from fee-for-service to value-based payment models that tie reimbursement to outcomes and quality performance. While these value-based reimbursement models have shown strong potential to advance the patient experience and care quality, as illustrated by outcomes and patient satisfaction scores, we should be under no illusions; the healthcare industry still has a long way to go when it comes to improving patient safety—and HIM professionals will without question play an important part in driving us there.

The Future of Patient Safety

While the patient safety movement’s past was characterized by paper and manual processes, the future will be driven by automation, bringing the potential to drastically reduce preventable errors and save millions of lives each year. The move to digital records and automation today is representative of most healthcare organizations’ efforts in what the healthcare industry typically considers “patient safety 1.0.” The next phase will encompass a greater emphasis on:

  • Continuous patient safety learning
  • Data normalization
  • Improved compliance
  • Higher levels of patient engagement

In the near future, patient safety initiatives HIM technologies will be supported by a rigorous governance, risk, and compliance framework to ensure organization-wide adoption. Healthcare organizations will work together to mutually govern safety learnings in a diverse digital ecosystem that leverages coordinated technology and data. For example, healthcare organizations will use policy management modules to store and share best practices, enabling peer organizations to retrieve applicable policies and execute necessary changes based on validated findings, recommendations, and controls.

To manage risks, healthcare organizations will proactively share data and information—at every level—so they can incorporate procedures that reduce harm and promote safety. Built-in tools, reporting mechanisms, and available resources will ensure that health delivery organizations are complying with the governance mechanisms and risk reduction methodologies to ensure that the future of patient safety is effective and sustainable. United around a common understanding of what patient safety represents, healthcare organizations that embrace the potential of patient safety HIM technology will find themselves recognized for their reliability, sophistication, and ability to adhere to important regulatory standards.

Below are a few of the key components of next-generation patient safety systems.


By reducing the reliance on frontline staff for reporting events, surveillance technology helps solve many current patient safety challenges by delivering more accurate and timely information and increasing the volume and quality of safety data. In this regard, surveillance technology will help guide healthcare organizations from reactive to proactive decision-making, a step that also involves using predictive analytics to identify future interventions that may reduce or prevent harm. By suggesting interventions and enabling users to have otherwise-difficult-to-find safety protocols at their fingertips, the proactive ability of surveillance technology makes information from risk triggers actionable and accessible.


By focusing resources on initiatives that deliver the biggest impact to patient safety, next-generation patient safety technology can help healthcare organizations prioritize improvement projects. This prioritization depends on various factors, most significantly the healthcare organization’s own goals for what type of organization it seeks to become, such as accountable care or a culture-based organization centered on patient safety.

Data Management

More data does not always equate to better data—something most HIM professionals understand all too well. Instead, healthcare organizations need an elegant way to handle the substantial volume of data that they generate each day, as well as an effective means of automation to help them optimize their use of that data. Through improved data management and automation, next-generation patient safety systems will help free healthcare organizations from being overloaded by disjointed, fragmented data.

Adherence to Best Practices

Automation must be implemented in a thoughtful manner and must follow leading industry standards. Strict adherence to best practices helps ensure that appropriate steps are taken, quality metrics are achieved, processes are standardized, and unwanted variations are reduced.

Predictive Analytics

Among the greatest advantages of the new era of data-driven patient safety are the improved tools at HIM professionals’ fingertips to help guide their organizations towards achieving better outcomes. These tools leverage integrated clinical, cost, and operational data, along with predictive analytics and machine learning, to assist healthcare organizations in reforming organizational weaknesses in patient safety.

Community of Continuous Learning

An interconnected community of patient safety peers, including HIM professionals, can benefit from sharing best practices and discussing innovative approaches to solving industry problems. Eventually, such a community should include vendors, patients, community pharmacies, and healthcare organizations of all types that are working together to overcome barriers to patient safety.

Still Significant Room for Growth

Although the patient safety movement has come a long way from the paper and manual processes it had no choice but to employ in the era of To Err is Human, there is still significant room for growth. By embracing next-generation patient safety technology, healthcare organizations can help create the safer future for patients that the authors of that landmark report envisioned 20 years ago.


Jeff Surges is CEO of RLDatix, a global provider of intelligent patient safety solutions.

Continuing Education Quiz

Review quiz questions and take the quiz based on this article, available online.

  • Quiz ID: Q2039104
  • Expiration Date: April 1, 2021
  • HIM Domain Area: Clinical Data Management
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1 Comment

  1. I agree with what you said that hospital organizations need to have an efficient way to handle the large volumes of data that they receive each day. I remember reading an article about how important it is for hospitals to have an HIM coding solutions partner, so they can avoid costly errors from poor medical coding practices. Personally, I think all hospitals and clinics should employ a coding partner for their own financial security.

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