Friday, March 02, 2012

Rerun: Health Information Technology Basics From Calif. Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee

I think this post from two years ago on IT realities in healthcare merits a repeat appearance.


I have never before seen a document like the one entitled "Health Information Technology Basics", by the Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy, California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee. It is available at this link (PDF). [Note- now at here - ed.]

It is long but contains rather interesting views on the issue of health IT, management and clinicians (nurses).

From the PDF, this cartoon is satirical but touches on a most serious issue - distraction due to technology. Click to enlarge.

I find the following passages of particular interest as they reflect views we express on this blog, and attack the notion of cybernetic miracles being wrought:

Skill is the ability, drawn from education and experience, to do something expertly. It can also be defined as the effective exercise of professional judgment in non-routine situations.

Following prescribed rules, as a machine would, makes an employee competent to perform tasks, but it doesn’t make the employee skilled. They can do their job as long as there are no surprises. But when something unexpected happens, the rules break down, and caring for patients means facing the unexpected every day. Only skilled health professionals can cope with the unexpected. To know what to do, they have to rely on their own judgment. The exercise of judgment is the essence of skill.

... Much health information technology is skill-degrading. As the work of health professionals becomes increasingly automated, they lose the ability to do their jobs without HIT. To make matters worse, they’re expected to keep pace with machines. They serve the machines rather than doing the more gratifying work of patient care, and ultimately they’re compensated less well.

And this:

Displacement [of people by machines] is hard to spot because it’s unlikely to appear as a one-to one correspondence; that is, you probably won’t find a robot sitting in your colleague’s chair tomorrow. It’s more likely to happen piecemeal, over an extended period, and through attrition.

  • The job of patient care will be redefined, privileging technical over clinical skills.
  • The hospital will begin to hire more HIT specialists and fewer RNs.
  • Functions performed in the past by health professionals will be fragmented and reallocated between machines and less-skilled employees.
  • Increased technical efficiency will enable the hospital or HMO to expand without expanding its workforce.

And this:

Use of any hospital technology must be consistent with safe, therapeutic, and effective patient care. Health information technology is a complete unknown in this regard. It’s an enormous social experiment designed by computer scientists and implemented by hospital administrators. HIT hasn’t grown organically from the needs of patients but has been imported from other industries. Known as enterprise resource planning, it’s adapted from similar technology designed to manage business operations on a massive scale and already being used to run the world’s largest corporations.

Caring for patients isn’t business. It requires compassion, judgment, and advocacy. Because RNs have the moral right and legal duty to advocate for patients, they have to be able to override the automated decision-making of HIT designed to serve business interests.

RNs have to work collectively to control health information technology rather than trying to fix it. It’s important to recognize that tinkering can’t fix HIT because its primary purpose is to mechanize, or routinize, patient care. It’s designed to quantify the unquantifiable, to replace the patient with an imaginary statistical norm. High-quality healthcare can’t be mechanized because it depends on people—on patients and caregivers—and people are infinitely more complex and capable than computers can ever be.

Amen to that.

Read the entire document for a union-oriented view of health IT. It contains many truisms regarding HIT irrational exuberance and the control issues of the healthcare management class.

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I am a CNA Chief Nurse Rep. I am all for technology, but the EHR cannot replace a medical professional in providing patient care. I have seen RNs, MDs, and Pharmacists in tears over our recent EHR implementation for fear they are going to make a medical error, possibly killing someone, or that they are neglecting their patients because they are being "held hostage" by the EHR as part of the patient care experience, unable to find important information about their patients, etc.
MDs ,Pharmacists and RNs MUST stand together against this. Picketing the IOM and State lobbyists might be a start. RNs can help, but we need support from MDs and Physicians. I believe there can be some good from EHRs, but the old adage "KISS" or "keep it simple stupid" applies to current EHRs. The more complex, the higher chances for errors to occur.