Sunday, April 03, 2011

Medicare/Medicaid Cuts? Spend Money on Patients - Not Computer Experiments

There has recently been much debate about how to save this country from European-style financial ruin. From "GOP 2012 budget proposal cuts taxes on rich, cuts Medicare in the future",, April 3, 2011:

On Tuesday House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to release the Republicans’ 2012 budget proposal. Currently Democratic and Republican leaders are trying to negotiate a compromise on the 2011 budget would make some cuts to discretionary spending. Republicans have said they would not be able to propose really significant cuts to lower the deficit until 2012. According to reports, the GOP proposal would dramatically cut taxes on corporations and the rich, while also making significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

I propose the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which will directly affect medical care delivery to the elderly and poor,
be traded for cutting extravagant expenditures for experimental medical computer technology. This could be accomplished through repeal of HITECH and diversion of those funds to patient care, where it's more urgently needed.

Let scarce taxpayer dollars be spent on the health of human beings, not on machines of uncertain value and risk at their current state of evolution in 2011.

At my Jan. 2011 post "US House of Representatives Proposes to Defund Largest Non-Consented Medical Experiment in U.S. History: HITECH" I had written about H.R.408, the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 Introduced in the House of Representatives:

In a new bill in the House of Representatives, the ‘‘Spending Reduction Act of 2011’’ (link - PDF), it is proposed to cut unobligated funds of, among others, division A of the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009":

... Spending Reduction Act of 2011



Title XIII of the ARRA along with title IV of division B is better known as


(a) SHORT TITLE.—This title (and title IV of division B) may be cited as the
‘‘Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’’ or the ‘‘HITECH Act’’.

I commented that it looked like HITECH was one of a number of spending extravaganzas on the proposed chopping block.

Health IT under the country's current financial condition is indeed an extravagance, especially considering the experimental nature of the technology and the doubts expressed by experts as to its true value in its current state of development (see "An Updated Reading List on Health IT" at my Drexel Univ. Healthcare IT failures site).

This recent revelation should also be considered:

The quality of the technology is likely far, far worse than anyone, including the pessimists, imagined. The HIT problem reports in FDA's MAUDE database (link) are child's play compared to the following.

The unprecedented, recent, detailed analysis of a major American electronic health record system
for use in Emergency Departments (of all places) by an Australian health IT expert at the following links is simply astonishing, if not downright frightening. See:

If even a fraction of this analysis is correct, we should simply take those billions of dollars and turn them into cigar wrappers.

Or perhaps coffins.

I will also repeat some of my rationale in my Jan. 2011 post for repeal of HITECH:

  • This country cannot afford HITECH at this time. Put simply, we are broke, and the national deficit is ballooning far out of control. The money would be far better spent at this time on care of those who cannot afford that care.
  • HITECH appeared as if out of nowhere, with little to no input time from stakeholders. This suggests lobbying by those with conflicts of interest to push this bill onto the public, affecting their medical care without informed consent (see my March 2009 post "Draft Patient Rights Statement and Informed Consent on Use of HIT"). The bill includes persuasion along with economic coercion for non-adopting organizations and physicians. ("Adoption" = adherence to government-set standards of "meaningful use" of poorly usable technology.) I disapprove of the stealth process by which HITECH appeared. This is the U.S., not the old USSR.
  • Mass social experiments involving major systemic changes to our healthcare delivery system, with exceptional claims being made about IT, need to be backed by exceptional evidence. That evidence is lacking. In fact, the evidence might actually point in the negative direction. See my aforementioned post "An Updated Reading List on Health IT."
  • The technology is not ready. It is dangerous in unqualified hands, which most every medical center and physician office is in 2011 (i.e., an IT backwater). The field of health IT was somehow transformed from an experimental field into the 'savior of medicine' without the proof of value and safety that would ordinarily be required to move an experimental technology from lab to national rollout. Per the Washington Post, this process appears to have been a highly politicized one, favoring the corporate elites. The Washington Post’s 2009 article on the influential HIT vendor lobby “The Machinery Behind Healthcare Reform” is at this link.

To these I will add a few more reasons to convert HITECH extravagance in time of financial distress and high unemployment to direct care provision:

  • A similar experiment in the much smaller and strongly government-managed healthcare system of the UK didn't exactly have stellar results (link, link). We also have been warned not to make the same multi-billion dollar errors (link).
  • The cavalier attitudes by the administration-appointed ONC director Blumenthal towards evidence of health IT-caused adverse effects, including deaths, reported to him by the FDA (see this Feb. 23, 2010 Internal FDA Memorandum on Health IT Safety Issues, PDF).

Despite the fact that the Director of FDA's Center for Device and Radiological Health Jeffrey Shuren (a physician
and lawyer) testified these reports were likely just the "tip of the iceberg", ONC director Blumenthal glibly stated, per the Aug. 2010 Huffington Post Investigative Fund article FDA, Obama Digital Medical Records Team at Odds over Safety Oversight, that FDA's reports of health IT related injuries and deaths were “anecdotal":

ONC director Blumenthal, the point man for the administration, has called the FDA’s injury findings “anecdotal and fragmentary.” He told the Investigative Fund that he believed nothing in the report indicated a need for regulation.

These exact cavalier attitudes about "anecdotes" just failed in the Supreme Court. (See my Mar. 27, 2011 post about the Zicam decision in "Those Who Dismiss Healthcare (and Healthcare IT) Adverse Events Reports as Mere "Anecdotes" Have Lost - Supreme Court-Style").

More reasons for diverting HITECH funds to patient care include
government waste driven by irrational exuberance and idealism:

  • More on purported cost savings - Peter Orszag, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, said the use of electronic health records, without a major change in health care delivery, "would not significantly reduce overall health care costs" in the agency's 2007 report on long-term health care spending. He also said that according to data from the report, the return on investment for EHR's "is not going to be as substantial as people think." The CBO concluded that predictions of cost savings from EHR's relied on "overly optimistic" assumptions and said much is unknown about the potential impact of health information technology. [That is, it is an experimental technology - ed.] Mass savings from health IT is an assertion that is both unproven and highly unlikely in my view.

Finally, here's another reason to withdraw HITECH for now:

  • As I'd written in a series of essays at this blog query link, we simply don't know how to make computerized medical information reasonably private and secure. (One might wonder whether the current administration, sponsors of the out-of-the-blue HITECH act, actually wants healthcare information to be private and secure.)

I reiterate from my January 2011 post:

I would not weep for the HITECH act's passing. It would allow the restoration of health IT back to an
unrushed and careful experiment.

It would also give time to work out the significant issues causing health IT difficulty (such as raised in 2009 by our National Research Council) before we embark on national health IT diffusion.

In other words, its passing would reduce risk and help restore an essential level of sanity and due diligence to the healthcare IT sector, now afflicted by irrational exuberance bordering on delirium.

We would avoid the largest unconsented medical experiment in US history
, which as I have repeatedly written I feel would be disastrous with current levels of understanding of this technology and how to design, deploy and manage it. (My relative's 2010 HIT-related injuries only strengthened my convictions in this regard.)

Disclosure: I have no financial conflicts of interest regarding HITECH or health IT to weep about. Others do, and it's not hard to predict their financial interests will push them to oppose HITECH repeal "by any means necessary."

A replacement HITECH act that's "HIGH" on research and caution, but not so high on stealth, coercion and idealistic euphoria would be welcomed.

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please send this post to KevinMD.