Patient Safety and Health Information Technology: Learning from Our Mistakes

MUST READ article by Ross Koppel about why and how government and industry denial of serious design flaws in electronic health systems endanger patients’ lives and safety. He uses detailed examples, citations, and the historical record to support his case. Flawed technology causes serious patient safety issues in the same way flawed technology prevents patient control over who can see, use, or sell sensitive health information.

Yet technology could vastly improve patient safety and put patients back in control over the use of their health data. Why is poor technology design entrenched and systemic? Koppel states, “The essential question is: why has the promise of health IT—now 40 years old—not been achieved despite the hundreds of billions of dollars the US government and providers have spent on it?”

He makes the case that key problems arise from industry domination over the public interest. “Marketing overdrive” has caused:
· Denial and magical thinking: we see the “systematic refusal to acknowledge health IT’s problems, and, most important, to learn from them”

· Prevention of “meaningful regulations since 1997″: “This belief that health IT, by itself, improves care and reduces costs has not only diminished government responsibility to set data format standards, it has also caused us to set aside concerns of usability, interoperability, patient safety, and data integrity (keeping data accountable and reliable).”

· Destructive “lock-in” to flawed technology systems: A full software package from a top firm for a large hospital costs over $180 million, and can cost five times that figure for implementation, training, configuration, cross-covering of staff, and so on.(11,12) Because illness, accidents, and pregnancies cannot be scheduled around health IT training and implementation needs, the hospital must continue to operate while its core information systems are developed and installed. This investment of time and money means the hospital is committed for a decade or more. It also reduces incentives for health IT vendors to be responsive to the needs of current customers.(13,14)

We have been to this rodeo before. Koppel points out these same phenomena occur over and over in many other industries:
“we had dozens of railroad gauges, hundreds of time zones, and even areas with both left- and right-hand driving rules. In all cases, the federal government established standards, and the people, the economy, and especially the resistant industries flourished. Industry claims that such standards would restrict innovation were turned on their heads.”

The health technology industry has failed to reform itself for 40 years. Effective federal laws and regulation are the only path to ensuring innovation and interoperability, to make health IT systems safe for patients and useful to doctors, and to restore individual control over who sees the most sensitive personal information on Earth.

See the full article at Web M&M: Patient Safety and Health Information Technology: Learning from Our Mistakes

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