Leading US doctor, hospital and consumer groups have formed the Patient Safety Institute (PSI), a major new collaborative initiative designed to harness and integrate secure IT systems to improve patient safety and healthcare quality,

The aim is to develop a confidential computer network, based on open standards, to electronically link medical records so doctors can instantly access vital information needed to treat patients safely.

PSI says it will use technology to provide real-time, secure, patient-centric information to improve patient care and lower the costs of healthcare. The fragmented nature of many existing health records is said to be one cause of the medical errors that kill thousands of Americans each year

The objective is to create a national electronic network that would allow participating doctors and health care providers to share the key information needed to make medical decisions — such as the list of a patient’s current medicines, recent laboratory tests, allergies and immunisation record.

The voluntary, non-profit PSI venture has already raised $8 million for a pilot test of the project, in a US city to be announced next month.

"The PSI network will enable providers to immediately access vital blocks of information from disparate sources, at any time and from any point of care, and will dramatically enhance patient safety and improve treatment," said Jack Lewin, CEO of the California Medical Association and chair of PSI’s Board of Directors.

To facilitate expansion of PSI nationwide, PSI will offer access to the system through publicly available, open standard technology.

PSI will allow providers to securely access clinical information, in a secure and confidential environment, using the technology of their choice, such as a handheld device at the patient’s bedside or a networked computer in their office.

Beta sites that demonstrate the PSI system should be up and running by mid-2002. Based on the results from the test sites, PSI anticipates a national rollout of the PSI system sometime in 2003

“Patient safety and privacy are the foundation of PSI; the National Consumers League is proud to be a partner in this important new endeavour,” added Linda Golodner, president and CEO of the National Consumers League and a member of the PSI Board of Directors. "Only those who need to know – patients, their doctors and their health care facilities – will have access to patient data."

PSI’s Board of Directors includes prominent advocates drawn from the patient, physician and hospital communities. It includes members from the Child Health Corporation of America, Citizens’ Council on Health Care, National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Medical Group Management Association, University of Missouri-Columbia Health System and the University Health System Consortium.

PSI supports open standards and an open access policy for all healthcare IT suppliers. For the demonstration phase, initial support has come from leading technology partners including: Avaya, Cingular, First Consulting Group, Hewlett-Packard Company, Netegrity, SeeBeyond, TeleTech and Williams Communications.