Why The Overambitious, Cavalier Approaches of the Healthcare IT Industry Are Harmful To Health: Guest Post by Dr. Jon Patrick, U. Sydney

Apparently Holland is now veering away from a national project for health information exchange. From a researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam:

While failures of IT implementation in the UK and more recently the Cerner implementation in Australia has been dissected by [U. Sydney Professor] Jon Patrick, the Dutch initiative for a national health IT infrastructure for exchanging patient data that would start with a medication record and a summary record is about to be voted down in the upper house (Senate) of the Dutch parliament. It means that the trajectory to get this infrastructure and which lasted thirteen years will grind to a halt. Unfortunately this implementation has been poorly documented in scientific journals (to my knowledge only one paper describing the infrastructure was published in Methods of Information in Medicine).

I wrote about the exposé by Prof. Jon Patrick of U. Sydney of poor software engineering practices, poor usability, unreliability, and dangers posed by a commercial health IT product slated for the ED's of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) at my Mar. 5, 2011 post
"On an EMR Forensic Evaluation by Professor Jon Patrick from Down Under: More Thoughts".

Prof. Patrick offers the following additional pithy and highly insightful commentary, reposted here with his permission (emphases mine):


Since the publication of my long report on the discontent with and weaknesses of Cerner Firstnet/Millenium in Australia (see http://www.it.usyd.edu.au/~hitru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=91&Itemid=146) I have been pondering the issue of how we can better define the "EMR" and its functions.

I certainly think that the notion of an EMR in terms of current popular discussions in AMIA-WGs [American Medical Informatics Association work groups - ed.] and blogs [such as this one - ed.], government policy and vendor publicity is defined at too high a level of generalisation for analysts to create an adequate specification of it and likewise for the engineers to understand the requirements so that they can build such a system.

This position is further justified by the failures to create such systems in the UK, NSW and Victoria (Australia) and the loss of political support in Holland. A counterpoint to this are the successes in New Zealand, Denmark and Scotland with systems of smaller ambition and scale targeted at particular problems.

I offer this thesis for deliberation: that large scale enterprise software implementations are an over generalisation of the EMR problem so that their lack of ability to capture local context and their intrinsically weak engineering base demonstrate that the advocates of large scale EMR don't know how to do it, have failed to do it in the past at great cost to various communities, and will continue to fail until they understand and define the task properly and in great detail of what has to be done and how to do it.

In other words, the healthcare IT industry itself - starting with its leadership - does not know what it's doing and may itself be ill-suited to purpose, the purpose of facilitating better healthcare. Its overall brute-force, mass-scale, ham-fisted ideologies and approaches cannot succeed except in wasting billions of healthcare dollars. Or, more precisely, transferring that wealth to the IT sector and leaving little to show for it in the health sector.

I agree with Prof. Patrick's "thesis."

At my own HIT website now at http://www.ischool.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/cases/ years ago I wrote similar words:

Healthcare information technology (HIT) holds great promise towards improving healthcare quality, safety and costs ... however, this potential has been largely unrealized. Significant factors impeding HIT achievement have been false assumptions concerning the challenges presented by this still-experimental technology, and underestimations of the expertise essential to achieve the potential benefits of HIT. This often results inclinician-unfriendly HIT design, and HIT leaders and stakeholders operating outside (often far outside) the boundaries of their professional competencies. Until these issues are acknowledged and corrected, HIT efforts will unnecessarily over-utilize precious healthcare resources, will be unlikely to achieve claimed benefits for many years to come, and may actually cause harm.

Once again, you heard it here first.

I also reiterate, our own "National Program for Health IT in the HHS" needs the same treatment that Prof. Patrick recommends for his own state of NSW, as at my Mar. 8, 2011 post "
The Future Pathways for e-Health in NSW."

-- SS