- Resorting to ad hominem attacks when questioned or criticized.
- Deficient familiarity with the current literature.
- Opining that others' concerns expressed in that literature could be "laughed off."
- Years-behind view of the situation on the ground.
Health IT Under ARRA: It's Not the Money, It's the Message
by Mark Leavitt
... Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office suggest the total incentive payout could reach $34 billion, although with expected savings the net cost is half that. Add to that another $2 billion that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT can use on various initiatives in support of the goal of having an EHR for every American by 2014.
[Note the catchy marketing slogan, which carries the implicit message "what manner of people would oppose Mother and Apple Pie?" - ed.]
But more important than the money itself is the message implicitly conveyed along with it. Will incentives be perceived as an intrusive, carrot-and-stick manipulation of health care providers' business decisions? Or will health care providers interpret ARRA as the correction of a reimbursement anomaly, welcoming the opportunity to modernize their information management and transform the care they deliver.
[Cybernetic Miracle™ Alert - note the grandiose term "transform", as opposed to "facilitate" or "improve" - ed.]
Some of the early signs have been worrisome. Before ARRA, most surveys concluded that cost was the No. 1 barrier to EHR adoption. But as soon as it appeared that the cost barrier might finally be overcome, individuals with a deeper-seated "anti-EHR" bent emerged. Their numbers are small, but their shocking claims -- that EHRs kill people, that massive privacy violations are taking place,
[As an information scientist, I'm almost embarrassed to post this link and this link, the results of just a few minutes' work with public resources. Thorough, robust searches in Dialog's suite of databases, Current Contents, Lexis Nexis, SciFinder etc. would show far more - ed.]
that shady conspiracies are operating --
[i.e., HIT industry lobbies - ed.]
make stimulating copy for the media. Those experienced with EHRs might laugh these stories off, but risk-averse newcomers to health IT, both health care providers and policymakers
[i.e., those who take due diligence and fiduciary responsibilities seriously - ed.]
are easily affected by fear mongering.
That is, Bah! to the apostates' narratives --
-- even though many of these narratives are in the peer-reviewed biomedical science and biomedical informatics literature ...
I'm really tired of amateurish political rhetoric and marketing puffery masquerading as substantive debate on critical issues as above. However, being experienced with EHRs, their design, implementation and lifecycle, and concerned with widespread irrational exuberance over health IT (a facilitative tool that carries risk to patients and medical organizations if not done well) I am not at all "laughing these stories off", and will critique the above in a quite serious manner.
Indeed, "laughing off" stories from credible sources and personnel (e.g., many AMIA members) about potential harm from an experimental technology affecting patients seems the height of hubris, or blindness of a kind mediated by incomplete knowledge or conflicts of interest.
First, binary thinking. It seems those who critique health IT's drawbacks are "individuals with a deeper-seated anti-EHR bent." That is, they don't buy into the consensus of the industry "experts" and must therefore be biased and wrong.
It also seems Dr. Leavitt is unfamiliar with or deliberately downplaying a growing body of literature on health IT risks and failures. [Health IT failure never, ever puts patients at risk, as I wrote here, of course - ed.]
Examples of this growing body of "unknown" or "ignored" or "downplayed" literature include:
Joint Commission: Sentinel Events Alert on HIT, Dec. 2008.
National Research Council report. Current Approaches to U.S. Healthcare Information Technology are Insufficient. Computational Technology for Effective Health Care: Immediate Steps and Strategic Directions, Jan. 2009
The National Programme for IT in the NHS: Progress since 2006, Public Accounts Committee, January 2009. Summary points here.
Common Examples of Healthcare IT Difficulties (my own 10-year-old website). S. Silverstein, MD, Drexel University College of Information Science and Technology.
Health Care Information Technology Vendors' "Hold Harmless" Clause - Implications for Patients and Clinicians, Ross Koppel and David Kreda, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009; 301(12):1276-1278
Finding a Cure: The Case for Regulation And Oversight of Electronic Health Records Systems, Hoffman and Podgurski, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 2008 vol. 22, No. 1
Failure to Provide Clinicians Useful IT Systems: Opportunities to Leapfrog Current Technologies, Ball et al., Methods Inf Med 2008; 47: 4–7,
IT Vulnerabilities Highlighted by Errors, Malfunctions at Veterans’ Medical Centers, JAMA Mar. 4, 2009, p. 919-920.
Unexpected Increased Mortality After Implementation of a Commercially Sold Computerized Physician Order Entry System, Han et al., Pediatrics Vol. 116 No. 6 December 2005, pp. 1506-1512
Role of Computerized Physician Order Entry Systems in Facilitating Medication Errors. Ross Koppel, PhD, et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005;293:1197-1203
Hiding in Plain SIght: What Koppel et al. tell us about healthcare IT. Christopher Nemeth, Richard Cook. Journal of Biomedical Informatics. 38 (4): 262-3.
Workarounds to Barcode Medication Administration Systems: Their Occurrences, Causes and Threats to Patient Safety, Koppel, Wetterneck, Telles & Karsh, JAMIA 2008;15:408-423
The Computer Will See You Now, New York Times, Armstrong-Coben, March 5, 2009,
Bad Health Informatics Can Kill. Working Group for Assessment of Health Information Systems of the European Federation for Medical Informatics (EFMI).
Electronic Health Record Use and the Quality of Ambulatory Care in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1400-1405
Predicting the Adoption of Electronic Health Records by Physicians: When Will Health Care be Paperless? Ford et al., J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2006;13:106-112
Resistance Is Futile: But It Is Slowing the Pace of EHR Adoption Nonetheless, Ford et al., J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2009;16:274-281
High Rates of Adverse Drug Events in a Highly Computerized Hospital, Nebeker at al., Arch Intern Med. 2005;165:1111-1116.
"Dutch nationwide EHR postponed: Are they in good company?", ICMCC.org, Jan. 24, 2009
“Avoiding EMR meltdown.” About a third of practices that buy electronic medical records systems stop using them within a year, AMA News, Dec. 2006.
"The failure rates of EMR implementations are also consistently high at close to 50%", from Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Health Information Management Research – iSHIMR 2006
"Industry experts estimate that failure rates of Electronic Medical Record (EMR) implementations range from 50–80%.", from A Commonsense Approach to EMRs, July 2006
Adverse Effects of Information Technology in Healthcare. This knowledge center presents a collection of information on the adverse effects of information technology in its application to healthcare. It also references sources of information on information security, and related media reports.
Pessimism, Computer Failure, and Information Systems Development in the Public Sector. Shaun Goldfinch, University of Otago, New Zealand, Public Administration Review 67;5:917-929, Sept/Oct. 2007
The literature at my HIT website's "Other Resources" page (link)
The teachings of the field of Social Informatics about new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT's) and the unanticipated negative consequences they cause. An introductory essay entitled “Learning from Social Informatics” by R. Kling at the University of Indiana can be found at this link (MS-Word file). The book “Understanding And Communicating Social Informatics” by Kling, Rosenbaum & Sawyer, Information Today, 2005 (Amazon.com link here) was based on this essay.
... I have similar problems with the way President Obama hopes to pay for the huge and costly health reform package he has in mind that will cover all Americans; he is counting on the “savings” that will come as a result of investing in preventive care and investing in the electronic medical record among other things. It’s a dangerous and probably an incorrect projection.
It is becoming more common that electronic patient record systems and other systems are interconnected, for instance imaging systems or laboratory systems. It is obvious that such systems should not be regarded as “purely administrative”; instead they have the characteristic features that are typical for medical devices. They sort, compile and present information on patients’ treatments and should therefore be regarded as medical devices in accordance to the definition.
Since the electronic patient record system often replaces/constitutes the user interface of “traditional” medical device systems, the call for 100% accuracy of the presented information is increased. Patient record systems have crucial impact on patient safety, and this has been proven to be the case after a series of incidents [including deaths - ed.] that has been reported to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare.
Finally, stories of HIT mayhem of which Dr. Leavitt seems blissfully unaware are making their way to appropriate political circles. The whistleblowers are afraid to speak out publicly due to fear of job loss or retaliation. However, when the case examples do come out, it may be Dr. Leavitt who will be found to be "fear mongering" about those who care more about patients and their rights than about information technology.
Now that we're hopefully past the expected ad hominem, perhaps the real issues can be addressed.
As a final piece of advice to Dr. Leavitt, I can add that dismissing concerns of others, Dogbert-style, is not a way to win friends and influence people.