Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Meaningful Use" not so meaningful: Multiple medical specialty societies now go on record about hazards of EHR misdirection, mismanagement and sloppy hospital computing

The "Meaningful Use" program for EHRs is a mismanaged boondoggle causing critical issues of patient safety, EHR usability, etc. to be sidestepped.

This is on top of the unregulated U.S. boondoggle which should probably be called "the National Programme for IT in the HHS" - in recognition of the now-defunct multi-billion-pound debacle known as the National Programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT), see my Sept. 2011 post "NPfIT Programme goes PfffT" at

The complaints are not just coming from me now.

As of January 21, 2015 in a letter to HHS at:, they are now coming from the:

American Medical Association
AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
American Academy of Dermatology Association
American Academy of Facial Plastic
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Home Care Medicine American Academy of Neurology
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
American College of Emergency Physicians
American College of Osteopathic Surgeons
American College of Physicians
American College of Surgeons
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Osteopathic Association
American Society for Radiology and Oncology
American Society of Anesthesiologists
American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery
American Society of Clinical Oncology
American Society of Nephrology
College of Healthcare Information Management Executives
Congress of Neurological Surgeons
Heart Rhythm Society
Joint Council on Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Medical Group Management Association
National Association of Spine Specialists
Renal Physicians Association
Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions
Society for Vascular Surgery

In the letter to Karen B. DeSalvo, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, these organizations observe:

Dear Dr. DeSalvo:

The undersigned organizations are writing to elevate our concern about the current trajectory of the certification of electronic health records (EHRs). Among physicians there are documented challenges and growing frustration with the way EHRs are performing. Many physicians find these systems cumbersome, do not meet their workflow needs, decrease efficiency, and have limited, if any, interoperability.

Of course, my attitude is that we need basic operability before the wickedly difficult to accomplish and far less useful (to patients) interoperability. 
... Most importantly, certified EHR technology (CEHRT) can present safety concerns for patients. We believe there is an urgent need to change the current certification program to better align end-to-end testing to focus on EHR usability, interoperability, and safety.

Let me state what they're saying more clearly:

"This technology in its present state is putting patients at risk, harming them, and even killing them, is making practice of medicine more difficult, is putting clinicians at liability risk, and the 'certification' program is a joke."

... We understand from discussions with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) that there is an interest in improving the current certification program. For the reasons outlined in detail below, we strongly recommend the following changes to EHR certification:

1. Decouple EHR certification from the Meaningful Use program;
2. Re-consider alternative software testing methods;
3. Establish greater transparency and uniformity on UCD testing and process results;
4. Incorporate exception handling into EHR certification;
5. Develop C-CDA guidance and tests to support exchange;
6. Seek further stakeholder feedback; and
7. Increase education on EHR implementation.

Patient Safety
Ensuring patient safety is a joint responsibility between the physician and technology vendor and requires appropriate safety measures at each stage of development and implementation.

I would argue that it's the technologists who have butted into clinical affairs with aid from their government friends, thus the brunt of the ill effects of bad health IT should fall on them.  However, when technology-related medical misadventures occur, it's the physicians who get sued.

... While training is a key factor, the safe use of any tool originates from its inherent design and the iterative testing processes used to identify issues and safety concerns. Ultimately, physicians must have confidence in the devices used in their practices to manage patient care. Developers must also have the resources and necessary time to focus on developing safe, functional, and useable systems.

Right now, those design and testing processes compare to those in other mission-critical sectors employing IT quite poorly.

Considering fundamental stunningly-poor software quality that I've observed personally, such as lack of appropriate confirmation dialogs and notification messages supporting teamwork, lack of date constraint checking (see my report to FDA MAUDE at and many others at, and other fundamentals, I would say grade schoolers could probably have done a better job of safety testing than the vendors and IT amateur-implementers of the major systems I observed did. 

... Unfortunately, we believe the Meaningful Use (MU) certification requirements are contributing to EHR system problems, and we are worried about the downstream effects on patient safety.

In other words, computers and the government thirst for data do not have more rights than patients.  In the current state of affairs, as I have observed prior, computers do seem to have more rights than patients and the clinicians who must increasingly use them.

... Physician informaticists and vendors have reported to us that MU certification has become the priority in health information technology (health IT) design at the expense of meeting physician customers’ needs, patient safety, and product innovation. We are also concerned with the lack of oversight ONC places on authorized testing and certification bodies (ATCB) for ensuring testing procedures and standards are adequate to secure and protect electronic patient information contained in EHRs.

Not just security, but patient safety also.  See for example my Feb. 2012 post "Hospitals and Doctors Use Health IT at Their Own Risk - Even if 'Certified'" at

Read the entire letter at

Sadly, while on the right track regarding the problems of bad health IT, the societies take a Milquetoast approach to correction:

... In May 2014, stakeholders representing accredited certification bodies and testing laboratories (ACB & ATL), EHR vendors, physicians, and health care organizations provided feedback to ONC on the complexities of the current certification system. Two main takeaways from these comments were for ONC to host a multi-stakeholder Kaizen event and to prioritize security, quality measures, and interoperability in the EHR certification criteria. We strongly support both of these ideas...

A multi-stakeholder "Kaizen event'?  (

That's one recommendation I find disappointing.  The industry plays hard politics, and organized medicine wants to play touchy-feely "good change" management mysticism with that industry and their government apparatchiks.  That's how organized medicine wants patients and the integrity of the medical profession to be protected from the dysfunctional health IT ecosystem (see  

When I originally created my old website called "Medical informatics and leadership of clinical computing" back in 1998, Kaizen events were not exactly what I had in mind.

Finally, the American Medical Informatics Association ( was apparently not informed of this letter, nor did it participate in its drafting.  While this is regrettable, as the organization is the best reservoir of true Healthcare Informatics expertise, I opined to that group that this may have been due to the organization's tepid response to bad health IT and to industry control of the narrative, and the problems these issues have caused for physicians and other clinicians. The lack of AMIA leadership regarding bad health IT is an issue I've been pointing out since the late 1990s. AMIA has been largely a non-critical HIT promoter.  That stance has contributed to the need for this multiple-medical specialty society letter in the first place.

Parenthetically, and for a touch of humor about an otherwise drab topic: Here's an example of how management mysticism plays out in pharma.

It's meant to be satirical, but captures reality all too well, in fact scarily so at times:

Management mysticism and muddled thinking.  See

In pharma, as well as in hospital IT in my days as CMIO, gibberish like this was real.  I imagine it's no different in many hospital management suites these days.

-- SS

1/28/2015  Addendum:

Per a colleague:

FierceHealthIT (1/28) reports, “It’s time for the American Medical Association and more than 30 other organizations urging change in the electronic health record certification process to be part of the solution, former Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT Jacob Reider said in a blog post.” Reider said, “So far, I don’t see much [any?] engagement from the AMA or the others who signed the letter. It’s relatively easy to write a letter saying someone else is responsible for solving problems. Time to step up to the plate and participate in the solutions, folks!"

Regarding the victims of compelled use of bad health IT, this erstwhile health IT leader opines "It's relatively easy to write a letter saying someone else is responsible for solving problems?"

That is simply perverse.

I ask: why are we in the midst of a now-compelled national rollout with Medicare penalties for non-adopters when a former government official once responsible for the technology remarks that it's apparently not the makers' problem and that it's "time to step up to the plate and participate in the solutions, folks [a.k.a. end users]!"

(One wonders if Reider believes those who step up to the plate are entitled to fair compensation for their aid to an industry not exactly known for giving its products away, free.)

It seems to me it's not up to (forced) customers to find solutions to vendor product problems, some deadly.

It's the responsibility of the sellers.

Put more bluntly, Reider's statement is risible and insulting.

I've already opined the following to the AMA contact at the bottom of the letter:

... Relatively milquetoast approaches such as multi-stakeholder Kaizens are not what I had in mind ... A more powerful stance would be to advise society members to begin to avoid conversion, report on bad health IT, and even boycott bad health IT until substantive changes are realized in this industry.

That's "stepping up to the plate" to protect patients, in a very powerful way.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

These devices are dangerous and should never have been deployed without robust testing for safety and efficacy. Scandalous.

FDA is still accepting complaints. File them at MAUDE naming the vendor.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Reider was the chief HIT cheerleader at ONC, and I see that he remains ebullient regarding this flawed technology.

Organizations of doctors have been slow to react but this letter is an example of them stepping up to the plate in response to having their doctors being forced to use devices that are not fit for purpose.