Health IT Pundits and Perhaps the Most Logically Fallacious (And Even Cold-Hearted) Statement I've Seen About Health IT to Date

The KevinMD blog has reposted George Lundberg's MedPage Today post "Health IT: Garbage In, Garbage Out", retitled as "Health IT has problems, but is worth the price." I covered Dr. Lundberg's original post at my Nov. 16, 2011 essay "George Lundberg, MD: The Promise of Health IT, and a Caveat."

As the KevinMD blog is exceptionally well-read, I expected the HIT pundits to come in with "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" accolades for the technology.

I was right, even early on.

Keep in mind that Dr. Lundberg specifically quotes me in his article:

... However, there is another harsh critic worth listening to.

His name is Dr. Scot Silverstein, and he seems to have made it his life's work to call attention to really
bad problems that he discovers in this mass move to automation.

Heed his cautions. They are real.

My writings and opinions are known of by the following pundit, including the fact that my relative was injured as a result of the technology, who commented on KevinMD's reposting of the Lundberg essay. The comment is here (I do not personally know the commenter, only having exchanged numerous back-and-forth comments on a few health IT blogs in the past):

Margalit Gur-Arie [a partner at EHR pathway, LLC and Gross Technologies, Inc. - ed.]

Wow! There's something to be said for extreme statements, whether right or wrong.

... do EHRs kill people? Probably, but every single item used in medicine can be shown to have killed people at one time or another, depending on how you define "killed" [1]. Do more people get harmed where EHRs are present, compared to where they are not? There are no conclusive studies to that effect and there are no conclusive studies showing the opposite either. There are not very good studies at all, but if mass murder was occurring, we would have probably known by now.

The appeal to ridicule and/or argumentum ad ignorantiam-like statement "if mass murder was occurring, we would have probably known by now" is both fallacious and egregious. Is that a criteria medicine uses, in the explicitly admitted situation where conclusive studies are lacking, to promote diffusion of some new treatment or tool? That is, since we don't note catastrophic levels of toxicity, the toxicity is of minor import?

On other logical fallacies, the statement that "every medical intervention can kill", implying that any morbidity and mortality due to EHRs is just a foregone conclusion, is doubly fallacious.

One fallacy is the absolute nature of the statement itself. It isn't true that 'all medical interventions can kill.' Another fallacy is the cavalier lack of distinction between a small vs. large risk of injury or death.

That said, even without considering 1) the literature aggregated here, 2) the context of the IOM Committee on Patient Safety and Health Information Technology's report that states the technology has risks, and worse, that impediments to information diffusion prevent the magnitude of the risks from being known (PDF available here), and 3) the context of my relative's travails, this is perhaps the most wishy-washy, ethically unsatisfying, cold-hearted excuse for health IT's problems -- and for reneging on fixing those problems before national rollouts -- that I have ever seen.

The argument is so bad, it's difficult to parse out the precise nature of all the logical fallacies contained within.

COI disclosure: I note that I have no associations with, receive no payments or royalties from, or have any other relationships with healthcare IT vendors, consultants or customers. I decided to offer my services as an expert witness for attorneys on health IT-related injuries and records tampering as a result of my relative's travails, however.


[1] "Depending on how you define "killed"? Let me take a stab at that (it should be easier than defining
what the meaning of the word 'is' is). How about "resulted directly or indirectly in the termination of all biological functions, as in, the patient's dead?"

-- SS