House Ways And Means, and Energy and Commerce, Note EHRs Not What They Were Made Out To Be, Calls For HITECH Moratorium

I have called numerous times for a moratorium on ambitious national health IT programs.  See 2008 and 2009 posts here and here for example.  My calls are due to the prevalence of bad health IT (BHIT) in 2012, hopelessly deficient if not deranged talent management practices (especially when compared to clinical medicine) in the health IT industry, and complete lack of regulation, validation and quality control of these potentially harmful medical devices. 

I also called the HITECH stimulus act in its present form social policy malpractice.  (See my Sept. 2012 post "At Risk in the Computerized Hospital: The HITECH Act as Social Policy Malpractice, and Passivity of Medical Professional".)

Congress is starting to catch on:

Letter from House Ways and Means, and Energy & Commerce, to Secretary Sebelius of HHS.  Click here to download.

The letter to HHS secretary Sebelius is from Congressmen Dave Camp (Chairman, Ways and Means), Wally Herger (Chariman, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health), Fred Upton (Chairman, Energy and Commerce) and Joe Pitts (Chairman, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health).

In the letter the following is noted:

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

We are writing to express serious concerns about the final Electronic Health Record (EHR) Stage 2 Meaningful Use rules recently issued by HHS and ONC.  We believe the Stage 2 rules are, in some respects, weaker than the proposed Stage 1 regulation released in 2009.  The results will be a less efficient system that squanders taxpayer dollars and does little, if anything, to improve outcomes for Medicare.

The letter then notes that the "Stage 2 rules ask less of providers and do less for program efficiency" and that the Stage 2 rules fail to achieve comprehensive interoperability in the face of
warnings that:

..".failure to set a date for certain interoperable standards would put as much as $35 billion in Medicare and taxpayer funds in the hands of providrrs who purchase and use EHR systems that are not interoperable."

They note the Stage 2 rules fail to achieve interoperability in a timely manner and that "more than four and a half years and two final MU rules later, it is safe to say that we are no closer to interoperability in spite of the nearly $10 billion spent."

A major reason for this, I believe, is regulatory capture by the IT industry as I outlined in my somewhat rhetorically-entitled posts "Health IT Vendor EPIC Caught Red-Handed: Ghostwriting And Using Customers as Stealth Lobbyists - Did ONC Ignore This?" and "Was EPIC successful in watering down the Meaningful Use Stage 2 Final Rule?"

The House letter also notes:

It is highly counterproductive for providers to have purchased EHR systems that "cannot talk with one another" and cannot perform basic functions because of the insufficient standards set by your agency.

One of the critical "basic functions" is the note search capability upon which the vendors used their influence during the "public comments" period to have written out of existence, as in the above posts.  The influence became apparent due to serious public comment editing mistakes by customers.  One wonders what other episodes of vendor influence did not make it into the public spotlight.

The house committee members also note:

Perhaps not surprisingly, your EHR inventive program appears to be doing more harm than good.  A recent analysis of Medicare data by the New York Times explains the costly consequences.

Unfortunately, the letter did not spotlight the excellent analysis done by the Center for Public Integrity and published before the NYT article ("Cracking the Codes" by Fred Schulte et al.)

Finally, the letter calls for HHS to:

... Immediately suspend the distribution of incentive payments until your agency promulgates universal interoperable standards.  Such a move would also require a commensurate delay of penalties for providers who choose not to integrate HIT into their practice"  and to "significantly increase what's expected of Meaningful Users."

It is unfortunate the letter seems to make the assumption that health IT in its present form, and the industry in its present state of anarchy, can produce good health IT (GHIT) that is safe and effective.  (As I've written, we need ease-of-use, reliability and safety - basic "operability" - before interoperability.)  Perhaps the congresspeople need to read my recent post "Honesty and Good Sense on Electronic Medical Records From Down Under".

Financial issues are one major concern, but patient harm and death due to the disruptive influences of BHIT are, in fact in many respects more important.

Finally, to those who would suggest a political angle to this letter (I note comments on sites such as on the Histalk blog that the authors are Republicans), I note that ONC was started in 2004 by George W. Bush, and that health IT has always had broad bi-partisan support.

Reality in healthcare is more often than not apolitical, and injured and dead patients really don't care much about ideology.

-- SS