Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Science or Politics? The New England Journal and "The 'Meaningful Use' Regulation for Electronic Health Records"

In the NEJM article "The 'Meaningful Use' Regulation for Electronic Health Records", David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P. (ONC Chair) and Marilyn Tavenner, R.N., M.H.A. (10.1056/NEJMp1006114, July 13, 2010) available at this link, the opening statement is (emphases mine):

The widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs) in the United States is inevitable. EHRs will improve caregivers’ decisions and patients’ outcomes. Once patients experience the benefits of this technology, they will demand nothing less from their providers. Hundreds of thousands of physicians have already seen these benefits in their clinical practice.

I think it fair to say those are grandiose statements and predictions presented with a tone of utmost certainty in one of the world's most respected scientific medical journals.


Even though it is a "perspectives" article, I once long ago learned that in writing in esteemed scientific journals of worldwide impact, statements of certainty were at best avoided, or if made should be exceptionally well referenced.

I note the lack of footnotes showing the source(s) of these statements.

I also note the lack of mention of literature refuting or potentially refuting these statements of certainty. I can think of more than a few examples of the latter just off the top of my head [ref. 1-15 below, certainly not a comprehensive list but merely skimming the surface].

In politics, however, no such sourcing is necessary. It's easy for a politician to say "Free markets will not give us the healthcare system we want" or, conversely, "I never heard about the DOJ's selective dismissal of charges against people intimidating voters at a voting site in Philadelphia."

So, did the NEJM publish fact, or political platitude?

Can someone provide a list of peer reviewed, rigorous studies that back the assertions of certainty in 10.1056/NEJMp1006114, and override the body of literature that could cast doubt on these assertions of certainty?

Since it's people's lives at stake, not an inventory of widgets, I've promoted the idea of holding off on national roll outs until we:

  • learn sufficiently from failures such as the UK's NPfIT (National Programme for IT) in the NHS and our own military's AHLTA debacle on how to avoid same, which can injure and kill patients and wastes massive money and resources healthcare can ill afford, and more importantly that can be better used elsewhere - such as care of the poor;
  • improve the technology's usability, safety and efficacy through the years of Medical Informatics and other disciplinary research needed, that was short circuited through the invention of the ONC office by Bush (although national HIT then remained a goal, not a mandate), and the 'militarization' of ONC under Obama whereby HIT was unilaterally declared a proven technology and mandated for national rollout;
  • end the contractual "hold vendor harmless clauses" (see Koppel and Kreda's 2009 JAMA article here), and fear-based censorship of information on health IT problems, patient injuries and deaths related to the devices; and
  • meaningfully regulate these devices that have increasingly become governors of care delivery.

I have written extensively on these topics at this blog, at my academic website on health IT failure, and other sources (see list at end of my bio).

When there are significant doubts about a medication or medical device, we ought not push for national rollout.


Health IT devices have gotten special accommodation, and it's not on the basis of any rigorous science I am familiar with.

-- SS

References: (hyperlinks to these and others can be found at my medical informatics teaching sites here and here):

1. Health IT Project Success and Failure: Recommendations from Literature and an AMIA Workshop by Bonnie Kaplan and Kimberly D. Harris-Salamone. From the May/June 2009 issue of JAMIA.

2. "E-Health Hazards: Provider Liability and Electronic Health Record Systems.” Hoffman and Podgurski’s followup paper on EHR medical and legal risks

3. 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

4. Electronic Health Record Use and the Quality of Ambulatory Care in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1400-1405. The authors examined electronic health records (EHR) use throughout the U.S. and the association of EHR use with 17 basic quality indicators. They concluded that “as implemented, EHRs were not associated with better quality ambulatory care.”

5. Pessimism, Computer Failure, and Information Systems Development in the Public Sector. (Public Administration Review 67;5:917-929, Sept/Oct. 2007, Shaun Goldfinch, University of Otago, New Zealand)

6.
Bad Health Informatics Can Kill. his site contains summaries of a number of reported incidents in healthcare where IT was the cause or a significant factor. It comes from the Working Group for Assessment of Health Information Systems of the European Federation for Medical Informatics (EFMI).

7. The U.S. National Research Council’s "Current Approaches to U.S. Health Care Information Technology are Insufficient."

8. The UK Public Accounts Committee report on disastrous problems in their £12.7 billion national EMR program.

9. Gateway reviews of the UK National Programme for IT from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) (released under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act).

10. A report on the serious problems with the Department of Defense’s AHLTA system, Electronic Records System Unreliable, Difficult to Use, Service Officials Tell Congress. (This system, as I wrote here, is slated for abandonment. I cannot imagine it was greatly improving outcomes).

11. A New York Times report “Little Benefit Seen, So Far, in Electronic Patient Records” on Jha’s research at the Harvard School of Public Health, that compared 3,000 hospitals at various stages in the adoption of computerized health records and found little difference in the cost and quality of care.

12. An American Journal of Medicine paper “Hospital Computing and the Costs and Quality of Care: A National Study” by Himmelstein and Woolhandler at Harvard Medical School, that also concluded “as currently implemented, hospital computing might [very] modestly improve process measures of quality but not administrative or overall costs."

13. A Milbank Quarterly article “Tensions and Paradoxes in Electronic Patient Record Research: A Systematic Literature Review Using the Meta-narrative Method" by Greenhalgh, Potts, Wong, Bark and Swinglehurst at University College London.


14. Health Affairs, 29, no. 4 (2010): 639-646 Electronic Health Records’ Limited Successes Suggest More Targeted Uses, Catherine M. DesRoches et al.

15. NORCAL Mutual Insurance Company: "Electronic Health Records: Recognizing and Managing the Risks" (PDF
here)

Addendum 7/14:

I think this statement at "The Road to Hellth" blog in a post entitled "Meaningful Ruse" that cites my posts is apropos:

... Meaningful use entered our vocabulary in early 2009 as part of a $20+ billion gift from doctors, hospitals and the taxpayers to the needy folks at Cerner, GE, Siemens, Allscripts, Epic and other purveyors of complex, expensive and difficult-to-use and potentially even dangerous medical software products.

-- SS

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

In speaking with an eye doctor last week they were lamenting the 21% Medicare cut. They were also dealing with a new EMR, something that appears to be a yearly event.

Given my limited knowledge I was interested in discussing certification and future integration with the upcoming requirements. The doctor knew nothing about this, nor the AMA’s involvement with coding. There was only a sigh as they realized they would see even more hard earned money go to overhead.

Statements such as “patients will demand” are nothing more than marketing schemes to pretend there is demand. Patients only care about two things: How much will it cost and when will I feel better.

If anything there may be a certain level of skepticism due to everyone’s experience with: It is a computer problem. I can hold a piece of paper, change the words and know that the changes took place. With a computer I can change something only to find the mistake reappearing someplace I did not even know existed.

To say EMR’s are being demanded or even embraced by the public is a misstatement.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Advise doctors not to waste their money on EMRs, They are not fit for purpose, user unfriendly, and have not any proof of safety and efficacy.

Anonymous said...

Now you know how the countrymen feel in totalitarian states. The press is the propaganda of the regime.

MedInformaticsMD said...

Steve Lucas wrote:

Statements such as “patients will demand” are nothing more than marketing schemes to pretend there is demand.

Indeed, and it also may be designed to please the upper echelon; however such puffery does not belong in the NEJM.