March 2011 addendum: also see my thoughts on Meeting two of the Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology at this link.
The U.S. National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report in early 2009 on the state of health IT.
That study's report, led in part by pioneers in Medical Informatics G. Octo Barnett and William Stead, was entitled "Computational Technology for Effective Health Care: Immediate Steps and Strategic Directions" (pre-publication PDF available free at this link). The report was announced under the following header:
The insufficiencies were largely in the areas of difficulties with data sharing and integration, deployment of new IT capabilities, large-scale data management, and lack of cognitive support by health IT for busy clinicians.
One might reasonably conclude such deficits could affect patient safety.
Recently the Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences) formed a Committee to study health IT safety. It held its first meeting on Dec. 14, 2010 (quite a few years late in my opinion, and only after tens of billions of dollars have been earmarked for health IT, but better late than never):
The Institute of Medicine Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology is holding its first meeting on December 14-15, 2010. The first day, December 14, 2010 beginning at 10:30 am, is open to the public to observe the committee proceedings. The committee will hear presentations by the Office of the National Coordinator and other invited guests. There will also be an opportunity for members of the public and representatives of interested organizations to make a brief statement before the committee. Prior registration is requested for attendees and required for those wishing to make a statement.
Participant lists and materials from that first meeting are available at this link.
This brings to mind some thoughts on the social aspects of health IT evaluation.
At a website by Dr. David Healy (link) on mass over-promotion and clinical trial data irregularities regarding SSRI's, academic abuses towards critical thinkers, and related affairs, I note an interesting observation in the preface. The author states:
"On the face of it, the investigation of possible hazards posed by SSRIs does not seem to have followed the conventional dynamics of science, where anomalies in the data are supposed to spur further investigation. In this case, debate has been closed down rather than opened up. Journals that might have been thought to be independent of pharmaceutical company influence have “managed” not to publish articles and the appropriate scientific forums have “managed” not to debate the issues."
This sounds eerily familiar with regard to another domain in biomedicine - health IT.
Allow me to substitute a few words:
"On the face of it, the investigation of possible hazards posed by clinical information technology does not seem to have followed the conventional dynamics of science, where anomalies in the data are supposed to spur further investigation. In this case, debate has been closed down rather than opened up. Journals that might have been thought to be independent of information technology company influence have “managed” not to publish articles and the appropriate scientific forums have “managed” not to debate the issues."
Only recently do I note this phenomenon starting to lift. I've aggregated a number of reports and articles of recent years that take a critical-thinking attitude about health IT safety, efficacy, and sociopolitical matters such as here and here. I intend to broaden and deepen this aggregation to make it more comprehensive in the coming months.
This is a somewhat personal exercise as my relative was severely injured in 2010 by health IT interference with clinician communications.
However, it's also a professional endeavor. I will be presenting at a regional health care attorney's meeting in a few months on health IT risks. In my talk I will undoubtedly recommend aggressive litigation when HIT is implicated in patient injury, and investigations of potential contributions of health IT to medical malpractice when not readily apparent. I am not alone in this stance.
Several weeks ago I also asked the IOM Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology to be allowed to present my mother's case at some point, a tragic and ironic example of a family member of a physician and Medical Informatics specialist (not just a layperson) injured as a result of health IT. I have not yet received a reply.
Evaluation of health IT will likely become more than an academic endeavor in the next few years. Those engaged in it might find themselves called as expert witnesses - or as defendants.
I see a legal storm approaching in health IT. This is a domain I am somewhat familiar with, as pre-informatics I was a medical officer in public transit making safety-related medical decisions on transit authority/DOT-related matters, at a time when nationally-mandated random drug testing in the industry had recently begun. The legal implications of such work can be quite unexpected - and profound, especially when interfered with by outside sources with conflict of interest (e.g., labor unions). Train wrecks - literally, accompanied by litigation through the roof.
To those involved in health IT, this is not a scientific opinion, and thus feel free to ignore it.
At your own peril IMO.