The HITECH Act, a multi-billion dollar EHR incentive/penalty measure inserted into the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act legislation (ARRA or 'economic recovery' act), is proving to be an example of what should be called "Social Policy Malpractice."
The HITECH Act was largely a consequence of intense industry lobbying on behalf of the IT industry (as in the Washington Post at "The Machinery Behind Health-Care Reform: How an Industry Lobby Scored a Swift, Unexpected Victory by Channeling Billions to Electronic Records", May 16, 2009).
It is in fact not based on science or reliable evidence, and has led to increased patient endangerment and a worsening national debt picture.
The recent revelations of reports from diverse sources including but not by any means limited to the following indicate that HITECH and its expenditures of billions of dollars on experimental, unregulated, unproven technology represents social policy malpractice:
- ABC News (Your Medical Records May Not Be Private: ABC News Investigation" - privacy of electronic health data is very poor, in ways that paper would and could never have permitted);
- The Center for Public Integrity "Growth of electronic medical records eases path to inflated bills", on how EHRs lead to increased, not decreased healthcare costs;
- Experts at Penn and Harvard -"A Major Glitch for Digitized Health-Care Records" - savings from EHRs are illusory;
- Budget reports - in view of the deficit spending reported by OMB and others that is causing national debt to spiral out of control, jeopardizing the economic well being of the United States, and with upcoding as a side-effect and no cost savings, HITECH is an unaffordable extravagance.
- Recent revelations of outright EHR-induced mass chaos largely due to outspoken clinicians who've had enough - "Contra Costa County health doctors air complaints about county's new $45 million computer system", "Lake County (IL) Health Department - Depression era soup lines at the clinic";
- Abuses of NPRM Public Comment periods on followup health IT incentive regulations via industry ghostwriting (stealth lobbying), reducing EHR effectiveness while further enriching the industry - "Health IT Vendor EPIC Caught Red-Handed: Ghostwriting And Using Customers as Stealth Lobbyists - Did ONC Ignore This?";
Of course, I'd already cited these reports in past posts but they bear repeating:
- The IOM
report on HIT safety ("There's risk, but we don't even know the
magnitude because there are major systemic impediments to diffusion of
(known injuries and deaths are likely the "tip of the iceberg" because
of the impediments, and EHRs are medical devices that should fall under
the FD&C Act, but
FDA has largely refrained from enforcing
our regulatory requirements with respect to HIT devices because they're a
political hot potato
- Jeff Shuren MD JD, CDRH),
- NIST (health IT usability is poor, major remediation is needed) -
I'd called for a moratorium on ambitious EHR plans for similar reasons as far back as 2008, at posts here and here.
Yet instead, what is usually seen is excuses and cheerleading by healthcare organization leaders, and passive physician and nurse acceptance of deficient information technology.
This stunning passivity and acceptance by physicians and nurses of a deeply flawed technology of unknown risk seems largely due to physician learned helplessness and the Stockholm Syndrome. See the posts on "physician learned helplessness" at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/
Per a psychiatrist/informatics specialist Dr. Scott Monteith who has commented on this blog, the compliance of clinicians may also be a manifestation of the inherent human psychopathology reflected in the Milgram Experiment (and elsewhere):
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.
As to the consequences of physician "acceptance" of this technology in 2012 in its present condition, physicians are:
- Acting, in effect, 'in loco parentis' for their patients, not in the latter's best interests, who are not even afforded opportunity for informed consent. This is in violation of long-accepted norms of human subjects experimentation and research such as the Belmont Report, Nuremberg Code and HHS human subject protection regulations at 45 CFR part 46 themselves;
- Giving free provision of their expertise and labor at improvisation and workarounds, in effect providing free alpha and beta testing to an entirely unregulated IT sector;
- Engaging in passive acceptance of the entire liability and their hospital executives'
breach of fiduciary responsibility to protect them from same due to Hold
Harmless clauses, and breach of Joint
Commission safety standards through signing "gag" clauses on defects
and harms (see http://www.ischool.drexel.
edu/faculty/ssilverstein/ cases/?loc=cases&sloc=koppel_ kreda).
... This from Robert Kolodner, former head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) at HHS:
Dr. Robert Kolodner, a physician who headed the federal push for electronic medical records in 2007, acknowledged that billing abuse took a backseat to steps likely to entice the medical community to embrace the new technology.
Kolodner said officials were certain the savings achieved by computerizing medicine would be so great that billing abuse, “while needing to be monitored, was not something that should be put as the primary issue at that time.”
In other words, sideline (ignore) health IT-based billing abuse (and safety risks to the live patients subjected to this experimental technology without informed consent) because "we believe" the savings will be greater based on "our faith in the technology."
In the long term, success will depend upon accelerating interdisciplinary research in biomedical informatics, computer science, social science, and health care engineering.
This research must be conducted, of course, with full human subjects protections in place.