I have often said health IT remains an experimental technology. However, the technology is being inexplicably force-fed with a vengeance to hospitals by IT companies and governments, force-fed with respect to the actual evidence of benefit.
In the case of the NPfIT in the UK, we have items such as those below from a 2009 government report "The National Programme for IT in the NHS: Progress since 2006 - Public Accounts Committee." Emphases in italics mine:
The termination of Fujitsu's contract has caused uncertainty among Trusts in the South and new deployments have stopped. One option being considered for new deployments is for Trusts to have a choice of either Lorenzo provided through CSC or the [Cerner, an American company - ed.] Millennium system provided through BT. There are, however, considerable problems with existing deployments of Millennium and serious concerns about the prospects for future deployments of Lorenzo. Before the new arrangements for the South are finalised, the Department should assess whether it would be wise for Trusts in the South to adopt these systems. Should either of the Local Service Providers take on additional commitments relating to the South, the Department should take particular care to assess the implications of the extra workload for the quality of services to Trusts in the Local Service Providers' existing areas of responsibility.
The Programme is not providing value for money at present because there have been few successful deployments of the [Cerner] Millennium system and none of Lorenzo in any Acute Trust. Trusts cannot be expected to take on the burden of deploying care records systems that do not work effectively. Unless the position on care records system deployments improves appreciably in the very near future (i.e. within the next six months), the Department should assess the financial case for allowing Trusts to put forward applications for central funding for alternative systems compatible with the objectives of the Programme.
In 2010 Londoners continue to be used as cannon fodder for the health IT experiment, which continues to rain IT bombs down upon them. The result?
St George’s suffers Cerner teething pain
26 Aug 2010
St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust is facing teething problems with its installation of a Cerner Millennium hospital information system.
"Teething" problems? As if to imply problems with health IT are as minor as an infant's dental discomfort? That's some spin:
(The health IT baby must have serious endocrinological problems. Even after decades, it never seems to grow up, and is forever teething.)
The spin and excuses surrounding the health IT industry are simply nauseating, considering it's people's lives that are being tampered with and put at risk.
Let's translate to everyday language: the project has been a disaster.
... The trust went live with the Millennium in March, under a new local delivery model from local service provider BT.
Five months later, the trust, which is one of the largest in London, has had to second additional senior management expertise into the project team and institute an additional programme of workflow changes and training.
The trust says the new system is creating difficulties in tracking patient notes in some areas and in managing outpatient appointments; creating backlogs of work that have required extra staff to deal with.
Health IT is touted as improving clinician-clinician communication. Allow me to translate "difficulties in tracking patient notes." In King's English (as opposed to health IT political-ese and other mumbo-jumbo), this translates to "patient notes are getting lost."
That means that health IT is obstructing patient care. I'm sure the patients didn't consent to the use of unproven technology that could get them killed.
Health IT is also the supposed cure to healthcare's financial and staffing woes:
They have also had a knock-on effect on the trust’s ability to meet and report on activity. Sources familiar with the implementation say the trust was fortunate that the coalition government dropped the national requirement to meet 18-week referral to treatment time targets in the revised NHS operating framework.
The problems are understood to mainly relate to staff finding it difficult to adjust to new processes and to using the unfamiliar Cerner system.
...“Since the programme deployed some staff have found it challenging to follow the new workflows. Therefore, where appropriate, we are simplifying processes by modifying workflows and administrative procedures.”
Translation: staff are finding it difficult to perform clinical-related work according to the capricious diktats of non-clinician health IT developers. In other words, they have difficulty being coerced to work for the computer, instead of the computer working for them.
The south London trust told E-Health Insider this week that the implementation was just the beginning of a major change programme; a project it calls iCLIP.
Only the beginning? God save the King....
“Although we successfully avoided some of the major pitfalls of other deployments, the new systems have presented some challenges to staff, particularly in relation to outpatient clinics and the tracking of case notes,” said chief operating officer Patrick Mitchell in a statement.
How major could those "major pitfalls" have been? Perhaps he means, the software actually runs and no longer crashes?
He added: “We have allocated additional temporary support while the new system and processes fully embed in these areas. A further programme of training and workflow changes are also underway as we continue to support staff and prepare for the next stages of the programme.”
"Temporary?" We'll see about that. Per the recent article "Electronic Medical Records, Nurse Staffing, and Nurse-Sensitive Patient Outcomes: Evidence from California Hospitals, 1998–2007" (Health Services Research, 9 APR 2010, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6773.2010.01110.x), on a longitudinal analysis of 326 short-term, general acute care hospitals in California:
... Our results suggest that advanced EMR applications may increase hospital costs and nurse staffing levels, as well as increase complications and decrease mortality for some conditions. Contrary to expectation [I'm not sure whose expectation, and on what basis - ed.], we found no support for the proposition that EMR reduced length of stay or decreased the demand for nurses.
On to the issues of skills:
Julia Crawshaw, the general manager for maternity services, has now been seconded into the project team “to lead on the work looking at optimisation of workflows, operational procedures and further training.”
Will this GM for maternity be looking at workflows in, for example, neurosurgery?
The problems now being addressed occurred despite 1,600 staff being comprehensively trained prior to go-live.
"Comprehensively?" What does that mean, exactly? The results seem to belie that assertion. Or are these systems and their user experience so ill conceived, tedious, cryptic and complex that no amount of "training" is adequate? (I believe the latter.)
However, Mitchell stressed that thanks to the hard work of staff, the new information system is delivering benefits, including “real-time reporting in the A&E department and more complete monitoring of bed occupancy.”
How many millions of pounds and person-years were spent to achieve these startling results, I wonder?
Mitchell said: “Reporting in real-time requires that staff report more promptly and accurately so additional training needs are also being identified to help individual staff become more comfortable with the system.”
Perhaps the system - and its designers - should be "trained" to be more comfortable with the users?
A spokesperson for BT told EHI: “Obviously these are operational issues the trust is dealing with. It is not for BT to comment. But you would expect that on a major deployment programme of this scale there would be issues.”
This is a classic appeal to common practice. Such "issues" might be tolerable for inventory systems of widgets (perhaps Cadbury Schweppes products?), but no, in mission critical areas I would not "expect" problems such as lost clinical notes.
In the most recent trust newsletter, the chief executive said: “I do fully appreciate that iCLIP has been far from smooth sailing. However, all major projects have their ups and downs and I know that many colleagues are focused on the long-term success of this important project.”
More spin and appeal to common practice.
"Far from smooth sailing?" Why does the HMS Titanic come to mind?
... The next trust due to go live with Millennium in London is meant to be Imperial, scheduled to take the system in 2011, under Cerner’s Method M delivery model.
"Method M delivery model"? How many "models" does it take to implement information systems in mission critical healthcare environments?
In summary, the NPfIT, already by the government's admission a multi-billion pound debacle, continues to drag on. Patients and hospital workers are the fodder for this experiment, spearheaded this time by an American invasion.
The Blitz is on.
Unfortunately, this time there's no RAF in sight to repel the foreign invasion.