Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Barry Chaiken, MD, MPH: "Let's be patient" with experimental devices that harm patients

At an interview of Barry Chaiken, MD, MPH, FHIMSS, former Chairman of the Board of health IT trade group HIMSS and chief medical officer of Imprivata, a company specializing in healthcare IT security, Chaiken pleads for the following special accommodations for Health IT relative to other medical sectors:

... We’re still learning, in healthcare, about that user interface. We’re still learning about how to put the applications together in a clinical workflow that’s going to be valuable to the patients and to the people who are providing care. Let’s be patient. Let’s give them a chance to figure out the right way to do this. Let’s give the application providers an opportunity to make this better.

[Why are the health IT applications bad to begin with, I ask? - ed.]

I note the following.

  • If 'we're' still learning (and I don't include people with genuine clinical computing expertise in that subgroup, but it does include the plethora of amateurs in the commercial health IT industry), then the technology is experimental.
  • Worse, it's unregulated - a major special accommodation in and of itself.
  • These sentiments about "being patient" would be appropriate - if the subjects of this experimental technology that vendors need to be "given a chance" to make better were experimental lab rats.

Instead, the subjects of the experimental technology are unwitting, unconsenting human beings, who are being used as experimental test subjects for software development, and being put at risk, injured and indeed killed by the disruptions these experimental technologies cause.

Under these realities, the position presented by Chaiken is, in my opinion, ethically perverse.

That such sentiments come from someone who holds the MD degree and who I assume took the Hippocratic oath in some form is stunning.

In the health IT industry, "Primum non nocere" seems to have been replaced with "Kybernetik über alle."

Further, the commercial health IT vendors have had the good part of five decades to "get it right." How long is long enough?

Their software is unavailable for detailed evaluation and open critique of the user experience by impartial experts, unlike open source EHR's like VistA CPRS, demo version available at this link where anyone can:

  • Download the latest version of CPRS today and get access to new features including graphing functionality
  • Use the software as if you were a provider by entering orders, entering documentation, retrieving reports (and graphs) and viewing alerts and notifications that help with decision support
  • Learn first hand how VA’s electronic health record system works

Personally, I've had to use stealth simply to obtain and post graphical representations of some simply inexcusable commercial HIT interface sins (link). Why should a secretive industry be given additional special accommodation?

Dr. Chaiken goes on to state:

Let’s hold them accountable if they don’t [make the applications better]. Absolutely, hold them accountable if they don’t; and the marketplace, I hope, will be able to make those choices and hold them accountable when they don’t. But, we’re still learning.

Again, I'm not sure who the "we're" refers to, but "holding companies accountable" will not really help victims of the experiments who are seriously injured or killed.

A better solution, as I have written on this blog (such as at my Nov. 2008 post "Should The U.S. Call A Moratorium On Ambitious National Electronic Health Records Plans?" and at other sites as well:

Protect patients. Constrain the health IT experiment temporally and geographically, and apply the laws, customs and regulations of medical experimentation until this industry "has learned" whatever lessons Chaiken thinks they need to learn, e.g., from decades of Medical Informatics, Social Informatics, Computer Science, HCI and other research. None of these fields - last time I looked - are classified or protected intellectual property. Share information on patient adverse outcomes and near misses, instead of concealing them and contractually gagging users from openly speaking about problems.

That would be the ethical approach.

Further, how many more decades should we wait for the health IT industry to figure out how to look for better leaders beyond the "school of hard knocks" bias that's existed for at least the past decade? How many substandard health IT leaders were placed in hospitals the past few decades as a result of outrageous attitudes like these below from the major recrutiers, centered on spreading the wealth?

I don't think a degree gets you anything," says healthcare recruiter Lion Goodman, president of the Goodman Group in San Rafael, California about CIO's and other healthcare MIS staffers. Healthcare MIS recruiter Betsy Hersher of Hersher Associates, Northbrook, Illinois, agreed, stating "There's nothing like the school of hard knocks." In seeking out CIO talent, recruiter Lion Goodman "doesn't think clinical experience yields [hospital] IT people who have broad enough perspective. Physicians in particular make poor choices for CIOs. They don't think of the business issues at hand because they're consumed with patient care issues," according to Goodman. Healthcare Informatics, "Who's Growing CIO's."

[No, that line about 'being consumed with patient care issues' as a strike against health IT leadership didn't come from a Scott Adams business-idiot parody cartoon - ed.]

As in clinical medicine itself, if you're going to be anywhere near patient care and making decisions affecting its delivery, a degree damn well "gets you something."

At about the same time the above appeared in Healthcare Informatics, a generalist IT recruiter wrote me this:

... What is happening to MDs trying to change careers is providing a window into broader issues about professionals in society today - narrow training, pigeonholing in the marketplace, difficulty making lateral and cross-industry transition, what a handicap it is to be creative, entrepreneurial, or cross-disciplinary in the current marketplace, and the wasted intellectual capital represented by the high caliber of individuals who can't find ways to fruitfully plug themselves into the marketplace.

I continue to be amazed at this general phenomenon...the remarkable quality of a number of candidates I've met, and the lack of recruiters' ability to get them in the door of good companies. The interesting part of the story is that when I am able to get access to high level execs in some of these companies (not just IT, but devices, pharmaceuticals, etc. also) they are dismayed at the quality of those that they hire. They know that something is wrong in how the recruitment process is working. (eg, one of the major device cos. just devoted the time of 1 FTE in Human Resources to 'finding innovative ways of identifying and recruiting good talent into the company.')

Whose fault were the outrageous, deleterious hiring practices prevalent in this industry that contributed materially to its production of substandard products, hiring practices that persist to this day? (See example here.)

Why should we be "patient", and "give them [yet more chances] to figure out the right way to do this", and why should patients permit themselves to continue to be guinea pigs to such a sloppy, cavalier industry?

I note that Chaiken's credentials appear to fit the template, as colleague Roy Poses describes at various posts including here, of an "executive isolated from the real world of health care" and member of the superclass. From the interview linked above:

... According to your LinkedIn profile, you’re CMO for Imprivata, CMIO for Symphony Corporation, and CMO of DocsNetwork. You’re on a couple of advisory boards, you own a vineyard, and you just finished your term as chair of the HIMSS board.

Perhaps that helps explain the mantra of "computers [and profit] first, patients second."

Finally, in answer to my own question above "Why are the health IT applications bad to begin with", I suggest complacency, incompetence, willful ignorance, and negligence (including criminal negligence) as possible answers.

-- SS


The following in today's WSJ caught my eye ("What we've learned from the Gulf spill", Michio Kaku, July 20, 2010):

The nagging question is: Why did it take so long? Why couldn't they have capped the leak months ago? For three agonizing months, BP's engineers and executives were essentially making things up as they went along, conducting a billion dollar science project with the American people as guinea pigs. The basic science of stopping oil leaks at 5,000 feet below sea level should have been done years ago.

Concepts are similar. With just a few edits, we have this:

The nagging question is: Why is it taking so long? Why couldn't they have learned to create useful health IT decades ago? For at least thirty agonizing years, Health IT vendors' engineers and executives were essentially making things up as they went along, conducting a multibillion dollar science project with the American people as guinea pigs. The basic science of producing safe, effective, usable health IT should have been done years ago.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

Where is the regulation on these experimental devices that have yet to be approved as investigational?

MedInformaticsMD said...

Regulation will come, as in numerous news stories of late, after major disaster strikes.

A "cybernetic Libby Zion" case, for example.

-- SS