Monday, July 26, 2010

If Our Honored Military Personnel's Medical Care Was Not Involved, This WSJ Letter Might Have Been Considered Oddly Funny

In the WSJ today, a letter to the editor was published extolling the major strides made by the U.S. military in voice recognition technology for electronic health records:

[Note: this is not to denigrate the military, and I am very thankful to all who serve and defend our country and freedoms. Health IT problems seem unfortunately universal - ed.]

Shared Information Can Give Better Medical Results

Wall Street Journal
JUly 26, 2010

There is no question that medical information, notes and all, belong to both the patient and the provider, helping each of them to manage a medical condition ("The Informed Patient: What the Doctor Is Really Thinking," Personal Journal, July 20).

In the U.S. Army in Europe, we are taking the concept a little further, from "what the doctor is really thinking" to "what the doctor is saying." For the last two years, we have been evaluating voice-recognition technology to improve the provider's experience with our electronic medical record. During the process, we came across a wonderful discovery: As doctors dictate medical notes into the record during patient visits, patients are paying much more attention to what doctors are saying, prompting them to ask important follow-up questions, add statements about something else that may be bothering them, or, most importantly, correcting the doctor when a dictation error is made. It's the type of patient-safety feedback loop that would otherwise be absent.

The more we allow our patients behind the curtain to see and hear how we work, the more we will see patients become true partners in their own health care.

Robert Walker, M.D.
Chief Medical
Information Officer
Europe Regional
Medical Command
Heidelberg, Germany

Here's the problem, as I outlined at my July 1, 2010 post "$4 Billion Military EMR "AHLTA" to be Put Out of Its Misery? Also, Does the VA Have $150 Million to Burn on IT That Was Never Used?":

I have heard from numerous reliable sources that the military's $4 billion+ EMR known as "Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application" (AHLTA) is to be declared a failure, and replaced.

I'd written about AHLTA's considerable problems at the post "If The Military Can't Get Electronic Health Records Right, Why Would We Think Conflicted EHR Companies And IT-Backwater Hospitals Can?" at .

From that post:

[AHLTA has been described as] difficult for physicians to use. Intolerable. Slow. Unreliable. Frequently crashes. Near mutiny. Morale. Affecting patient care, decreasing patient load. Can it get worse?

Yes ... When the Army's Surgeon General observes that clinicians "spend as much or more time working around the system as they do with the system", and that the superusers are not enthusiastic about the system, and a Congressional hearing is held entitled "where do we go from here?" (it's clear to this author that they have no clue), one should start to very critically question basic assumptions about health IT.

Read my June 2009 post on the AHLTA failure at, and the May 2009 piece I referenced from "US Medicine - the Voice of Federal Medicine" entitled "Electronic Records System Unreliable, Difficult to Use, Service Officials Tell Congress" by Sandra Basu, in their entirety.

Extolling voice recognition advances in a failed $4+ billion EMR debacle due to severe unusability of most of the information system is akin to extolling the virtues of improving screen-door aesthetics on submarines being flooded by water entry. It could almost be considered funny, in a dark-humor sort of way - except the results are anything but humorous. "Dead serious" is a more apt term.

Finally, while "shared information can give better medical results", there seems to be little shared information about others' healthcare IT failures.

Organizations seem to be constantly re-learning that which others have learned years or decades in the past, repeating the same IT mistakes.

The cost of this self-education is not at all cheap.

(This failure to learn from others is one reason I write that health IT lacks the science and rigor of the field it ostensibly serves: medicine.)

-- SS


Mark B. said...

"Organizations seem to be constantly re-learning that which others have learned years or decades in the past, repeating the same IT mistakes." - Well said. It amazes me how little secondary research organizations perform when making huge IT decisions.

Anonymous said...

The government has not provided safe IT to its own military, thus endangering all. The HIT fraud being perpetrated on all of the US citizens will kill many prematurely.