Another pillar of the Affordable Care Act, electronic medical records (promoted with incentives for adopters and with penalties for non-adopters via the HITECH section of the 2009 economic recovery act or ARRA) are pretty damn bad themselves. Only, those systems don't make it hard to find insurance. Through bugs and other features of bad health IT, they directly interfere with safety and provision of quality care:
Bad Health IT ("BHIT") is ill-suited to purpose, hard to use, unreliable, loses data or provides incorrect data, is difficult and/or prohibitively expensive to customize to the needs of different medical specialists and subspecialists, causes cognitive overload, slows rather than facilitates users, lacks appropriate alerts, creates the need for hypervigilance (i.e., towards avoiding IT-related mishaps) that increases stress, is lacking in security, compromises patient privacy or otherwise demonstrates suboptimal design and/or implementation.
At my Oct. 20, 2010 post "Medical center has more than 6000 'issues' with Cerner CPOE system in four months - has patient harm resulted?" (http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/10/medical-center-has-more-than-6000.html) I observed:
From the October 2010 "News for Physicians affiliated with Munson Medical Center" newsletter, a large medical center in Northern Michigan, about more than six thousand "issues" with their Cerner CPOE.
... One wonders how many of those 6,000, and how many of the 600 remaining "issues" fall into categories of "likely to cause patient harm in short term if uncorrected" or "may cause in patient harm in medium or long term."
I note that Cerner CPOE is not a new product, nor are similar products from other vendors also afflicted with long lists of "issues." That there could be more than 6,000 "issues" at a new site suggests deep rooted, severe problems with CPOE specifically and health IT design and implementation processes in general.
Here's another such multi-"issue"-laden EHR, this at University of Arizona Health Network. Image of frequent periodic "EHR Update" below.
|"We’ve resolved 6,036 issues and have 3,517 open issues."|
[Ignore the 'kewl dark sunglasses' worn by the hipsters at the top of this announcement. Not sure if this has something to do with EPIC, but I consider the wearing of dark sunglasses by clinicians or any other staff in a hospital setting - where people are sick and/or dying - to be in exceptionally bad taste.]
The text starts:
ISSUES UPDATE as of 4:00 p.m., Nov. 8
We’ve resolved 6,036 issues and have 3,517 open issues.
That's a total of nearly ten thousand "issues." As of now, that is. "Issue" is a euphemism for "glitch" a.k.a. "software defect" and/or "implementation error", see http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/glitch.
These "issues" are in a supposedly "mature" product for which this organization has spent enormous sums of money, that has undergone "innovation" for several decades now - in an environment free from regulation, I might add.
Many of the "issues" reduce patient safety, and could or already may have resulted in patient harm. Such items on this listing, seen below, which is updated frequently, include:
- Pharmacy Medication Mapping Errors – Making good progress: watch for further notices. [Perhaps these should have been tested and fixed before go-live? - ed.]
- Microbiology Results Mapping Incorrectly [does that mean "mapping" to the wrong patient? - ed.] – all known errors fixed, monitoring and working on enhancements. [As above, perhaps these should have been tested and fixed before go-live? - ed.]
- Prescription printing - output for prescription printing has been fixed
- Refill requests for providers will be routed to the CLIN SUPPORT In Basket pool for the provider’s department. This was a decision made by UAHN leadership. [Not sure why this is being done; perhaps for approval by managers? - ed.]
- Errors transmitting prescriptions will also be sent to the CLIN SUPPORT In Basket. [Errors transmitting prescriptions? That's not reassuring regarding data integrity. See ECRI report below - ed.]
This is not to mention that all of the "reminders" that follow are a distraction to clinical personnel, who cannot be expected to remember all of them.
Bad as this is, at my April 1, 2012 post "University of Arizona Medical Center, $10 million in the red in operations, to spend $100M on new EHR system" (http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2012/04/university-of-arizona-medical-center-10.html) I observed that:
... $100 million+ is probably enough to pay for AN ENTIRE NEW HOSPITAL or hospital wing ... or a lot of human medical records professionals.
To add more bitter icing to this cake, I wrote about a campaign for clinicians to speak only in wonderful terms about the new U. Arizona Health System EHR at my Oct. 3, 2013 post "Words that Work: Singing Only Positive - And Often Unsubstantiated - EHR Praise As 'Advised' At The University Of Arizona Health Network." I observed the following about the "words that work" is the shameless 'suggested' script:
• Efficient - see aforementioned links as well as "Common Examples of Healthcare IT Difficulties" at http://cci.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/cases/
• Convenient - as above. According to whom? Compared to what? Pen and paper?
• Improves patient safety and quality - see IOM report post at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2011/11/iom-report-on-health-it-safety-nix-fda.html . We as a nation are only now studying safety of this technology, and the results are not looking entirely convincing, e.g. ECRI Deep Dive Study of health IT safety at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/02/peering-underneath-icebergs-water-level.html. 171 health IT mishaps in 36 hospitals, voluntarily reported over 9 weeks, with 8 reported injuries and 3 reported possible deaths is not what I would call something that "improves patient safety and quality" without qualifications.
• The Cadillac of its kind - according to whom?
• Patients at hospitals using this system love it - Do most patients even know what it, or any EHR, looks like? Have they provided informed consent to its use?
• Exciting - clinician surveys such as by physicians at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/01/honest-physician-survey-on-ehrs.html and by nurses at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/07/candid-nurse-opinions-on-ehrs-at.html shed doubt on that assertion.
• The best thing for our patients - again, according to whom?
• Sophisticated new system - "New"? Not so much, just new for U. Arizona Health. "Sophisticated", as if that's a virtue? Too much "sophistication" is in part what causes clinician stress and burnout, raising risk
Considering the near 10,000 issues, the new ECRI Institute report "Top Ten Technology Hazards in Healthcare", 2014 edition comes to mind (https://www.ecri.org/Press/Pages/2014_Top_Ten_Hazards.aspx). Named in that report, as has been the case for the past several years, is healthcare IT.
This year's problem description is:
#4. Data Integrity Failures in EHRs and other Health IT Systems
"Data integrity failures" include "issues" (per the bad health IT description) such as: data loss, data corruption, data attributed to the wrong patient, etc.
ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization, dedicates itself to bringing the discipline of applied scientific research to healthcare to discover which medical procedures, devices, drugs, and processes are best to enable improved patient care. As pioneers in this science for 45 years, ECRI Institute marries experience and independence with the objectivity of evidence-based research. Strict conflict-of-interest guidelines ensure objectivity. ECRI Institute is designated an Evidence-based Practice Center by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. ECRI Institute PSO is listed as a federally certified Patient Safety Organization by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, visit www.ecri.org.
ECRI also produced the 2012 Deep Dive Study of Health IT Risk (http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/02/peering-underneath-icebergs-water-level.html), where in a volunteer study at 36 member PSO hospitals, 171 health IT "mishaps" were reported in just 9 weeks, 8 of which caused patient injury and 3 of which may have contribute to patient death.
In summary, The University of Arizona Health System, with components in the red, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an EHR system, that has had decades to mature. Yet, they are finding 10,000 "issues" already, a number of which reduce patient safety and are unresolved, with many more likely to be found.
They are also 'advising' their staff to speak in glowing, unsubstantiated terms to patients about an EHR system that has 10,000 issues, and not seeking patient consent to its use in mediating and regulating their care - or giving elective patients the information that might allow them to choose another less "buggy" hospital.
If (when) patient harm results from such cavalier hospital (mis)management, the juries are going to just love the dark sunglasses, I bet.