Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New York Times: "A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits in an Industry"

The New York Times has published an article today by Julie Creswell entitled "A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits in an Industry."  It is available at this link.

... While proponents say new record-keeping technologies will one day reduce costs and improve care [only when today's bad health IT is abolished - see here - ed.], profits and sales are soaring now across the records industry. At Allscripts, annual sales have more than doubled from $548 million in 2009 to an estimated $1.44 billion last year, partly reflecting daring acquisitions made on the bet that the legislation would be a boon for the industry. At the Cerner Corporation of Kansas City, Mo., sales rose 60 percent during that period. With money pouring in, top executives are enjoying Wall Street-style paydays.

None of that would have happened without the health records legislation that was included in the 2009 economic stimulus bill — and the lobbying that helped produce it. Along the way, the records industry made hundreds of thousands of dollars of political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. In some cases, the ties went deeper. Glen E. Tullman, until recently the chief executive of Allscripts, was health technology adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign. As C.E.O. of Allscripts, he visited the White House no fewer than seven times after President Obama took office in 2009, according to White House records.

The article does not reveal anything that readers of this blog did not know already.

The push for the financial incentives and profits were also written about at the The Huffington Post Investigative Fund by investigative reporter Fred Schulte, now at the Center for Public Integrity ("Stimulus Fuels Gold Rush For Electronic Health Systems"), and in the Washington Post by Robert O'Harrow Jr. (which I wrote about at this post:  The Machinery Behind Healthcare Reform: How the HIT Lobby is Pushing Experimental and Unsafe Technology on Unconsented Patients and Clinicians).

Rather than re-hash the issues, I wanted to focus on some of the current NYT reader comments:

... After a visit to a Florida hospital for suspicion of heart attack, I asked for a copy of my records to give my home (IL) physician. I was shocked to read that I had had "anal surgery." When I reviewed these records with my doctor, she told me that I had probably told the admitting ER nurse I had recently had a colonoscopy, so the closest coding information their electronic system allowed was anal surgery. So, how can these inaccuracies which will live on forever electronically be helpful toward patient care? The old acronym GIGO certainly applies here--garbage in; garbage out.

... This article highlights only one aspect of the "Failed Promise of Electronic Health Records". Through lobbying but also supported by a study from the RAND organization, the three final 2008 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama outbid each other with promises to spend billions to entice doctors to use electronic record systems. Unfortunately, because of unsolved documentation problems, such systems are often disliked and slow the process. Instead of creating interoperability, electronic medical record systems (EMRs) with limited functionality and benefits were created. In particular, true interoperability has been neglected and attempts to create it through networks in the form of CHINs, RHIOs, and HIEs have failed.

... Mr. Tullman's comment is priceless. “I think it’s very common with every administration that when they want to talk about the automotive industry, they convene automotive executives, and when they want to talk about the Internet, they convene Internet executives." Of course, when "they" want to radically alter the way doctors do their jobs, "they" talk to academics, lawyers, publicly traded insurance CEOs and internet executives. Today's diatribe about quality care being more important than quantity care is laugh out loud funny. Unless you're a physician. Only in America does getting paid less and less, with more clerical data entry record-keeping at every step just to get paid and protect against lawsuit, translate into an incentive to provide quality care. Somebody prescribe a dose of common sense. Oops. Too late.

... Every person needs a national health ID with up to date health information. To say that the current EMR systems are problematic would be an understatement. They take away face time with patients, the M.D.'s talents and time are wasted doing data entry and worst of all ,they are potentially dangerously flawed. An example is a recent patient I saw who was treated by a number of physicians. His medications had required significant changes which were done by 2 different M.D.'s from his main doctor. Both gave him computer generated lists from the same system. Both had a mixture of unmatching generic and proprietary names, the patient's actual medicines from the pharmacy had a mixture and different doses from the Dr.'s orders. He was trying to set up his week's supply. But didn't know which proprietary name went with which medicine. These systems should have been tried out on a small scale and approved by M.D.'s before this became law. The VA system which is time tested, physician friendly and free only the VA is using. These other systems are set up to maximize profits for the IT companies, cost the physicians huge amounts to install, cost the hospitals huge amounts esp when they are changing from one system to another due to problems when they were advertised to maximize hospital billing. This another example of our distorted legislative process where profits and politics take precedence over people.

... I am a dermatologist in private practice who teaches at a local medical school part time. Electronic records are problematic. Every doctor I know feels they take time away from being a doctor. I literally don't know a single colleague who feels their benefits are worth the extra time involved. In medical school, we learned how to record notes in medical records so that patient care is improved from visit to visit. In short, we use notes from the previous visits to assist in our decisions in subsequent examinations. In today's digital world, most doctors I know are forced to change their notation style to justify payments from insurance companies. The more detailed the note in the medical record, the lower the chance that an insurance company downgrades the fee charged to the patient. Thus, notes are now longer and more detailed than they were ten years ago. The problem with such notes is that they are filled with detritus geared to prevent payment reduction rather than aimed at improving continuity of patient care from visit to visit. The impact of this adoption of electronic medical records is that insurance company computer systems can easily sift through notes to reduce compensation to doctors who spend more time with patients and who write cleaner, more efficient notes.

... I still use pen and paper.  One requirement would fix this mess: interoperability No, NOT the "industry supported" standard. Thats a joke. Industry wants NO inter-operability because they want to lock us in to a an individual product, The government has a great EMR (the VA system). All commercial ones should be forced to be able to export data in a way that is 100% compatible with that. As such, they would then be 100% compatible with each other. Some of my colleagues are now on their third EMR product in 7 years. Why? Big company buys company B and then stops supporting it. The doctor is forced to switch to Big Company's new product. Of course the data does not transfer over so the doctor has to go through the crude data-entry mess all over.

... The folly of relying only on digital records. Without constant and costly software and hardware upgrades, your digital medical records will be rendered obsolete. Could be a matter of years or decades, but it will happen. Not only that, digital proprietary systems are at huge risk if the private for-profit company goes bankrupt. Paper records can last 1000 years.

... Another scam. Very expensive and involved for end user:ie doctor. Have had to hire an IT company to assist, have to pay annually for service contract, upgrades and what the article didn't mention was the "meaningful use" criteria that all doctors have to comply with in order to pass government inspection for a rebate. The software vendors, labs, and others are charging doctors extra for software upgrades and abilities to comply with each "meaningful use" component . This is already costing more money and aggravation than the worth of the government rebate. Who will subsidize this? Doctors are starting to lose interest. We know this is another corrupt government sponsored ploy and only the tip of the iceberg. If the government were to have spent the 19 billion with a consortium of vendors such as google apple and microsoft, the goal of free software provision capable of interexchangeable data would likely have been completed with all providers on board.

... Common sense can tell you that the real value of these systems is marginal. Much of medical treatment is "incident specific" where history is not necessary. Most PCP's already have a system that works. In larger systems and for complex diseases, perhaps EMR are beneficial but not for routine care. As has been noted, all sorts of problems arise with EMR's: destruction of MD-pt relationship, incorrect data being entered and never removed, cumbersome and expensive requirements of instituting and maintaining the system, etc. It is awful that physicians and patients are "used" in the service of politicians and EMR execs.

... As a practicing physician I have to struggle everyday with the Citrix and Quickbase electronic records. The Electronics Medical Records industry has been getting the gold promised by the government in exchange of a very poor and deficient product. The EMR industry has been selling to the healthcare providers, in need of electronic records, the equivalent of the Formaldehyde-contaminated trailer homes sold to FEMA for the Katrina homeless.

These are just from the first page of comments.  Read the article and the comments at the link above.

My observation is that it seems that as transparency increases, the public "gets it" that these systems are not the panacea the industry wants us to believe, and may impede the clinicians trying to treat them.

Now, when will the government "get it" that they've been had?

-- SS

Addendum:  another "anecdote" just caught my eye because it sings an unfortunate familiar tune to me:

So much data, so little knowledge. My best friend's father just died because none of his who-knows-how-many physicians took the time to actually read and anaylze the reams of info they were dutifully inputting. They killed him with an overdose of one drug and not enough of another.  Useful data collection and analysis is one thing, but what we seem to have now is just institutionalized hoarding. More data doesn't make anyone safer (except the data companies), just like stacks of old magazines or cans of beans makes one safer. More is NOT better; it is just more. More time and more expense wasted on stuff and less spent on actual health care. You've got to USE anything or it is just more useless and potentially dangerous stuff.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

Someone at HealthCare Renewal please please comment on this piece:

"I believe we are entering a Golden Age of Healthcare in the next decade. Finally, we are seeing, and treating, the molecular mechanisms of disease. Finally, we are seeing the differences in people’s molecular pathways and able to customize treatments to each individual’s situation. Finally, civilization has advanced enough that we can effectively update evolution to adapt us to our modern world, correct our genetic obsolescence, prevent aging related degeneration and help us cope with the excesses of modern life.

Medicine is becoming a Big Data problem. We are all just piles of carbon and oxygen and nitrogen. What makes us different is how those atoms are arranged and interact. This is Information. And it means therapeutic decisions must also be personalized, including the drugs to treat each individual’s unique illness and genome. Healthcare IT will lead us to this Golden Age."

Trevor3130 said...

Let's hope those comments are being redacted, Scot.
If I may swerve back onto the aircraft analogies, we (in Australia) were favoured with an extraordinary analysis of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF, Lockheed-Martin's F35), see ABC TV's Four Corners Reach for the sky.
It's intriguing to note the aircraft is almost totally reliant on software, as if code can ever be free of bugs.
Yet, new 787s have been grounded by something as simple as failed batteries. You'd think, in a situation where over-heating of batteries while being recharged was entirely predictable, some smart software would be able to detect rising temperature.

InformaticsMD said...

Re: Someone at HealthCare Renewal please please comment on this piece:

It's already been done. Search the blog on "IBM Watson";

see this essay on bioinformatics:

And see this about overconfidence in computing:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response.

Anonymous said...

Check out Dr. Robert Wachter's embarrassing response to the NYT article.