Congresswoman Renee Ellmers on Health IT Concerns

A letter on Health IT from Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, (R) NC, Chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology was just sent to Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The themes in the letter will be familiar to readers of Healthcare Renewal.

A PDF copy of the letter can be downloaded by clicking below, and the text follows.

(click here to download PDF)

Here is the text, along with several comments:

August 11, 2011

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 lndependence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201
Via Facsimile: 202. 690.7380

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

The House Small Business Committee, on which I serve, is required by the Rules of the House to study and investigate the problems of all types of small businesses. This jurisdiction extends to matters concerning small businesses and health care. I chair the Committee’s Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology.

On June 2, 2011, the Subcommittee held a hearing on the barriers to health information technology that are encountered by physicians and other providers in small practices. At the hearing, physicians testified that the cost to purchase and maintain a health IT system, is addition to staff training and downtime during the transition to health IT, are significant burdens for small practices. These barriers mere mentioned even by physicians who believe health IT would ultimately benefit their practices. Providers at the hearing also stated their concern about the Medicare reimbursement penalties that will be assessed against providers who do not demonstrate “meaningful use” of health IT by 2015.

One of the frequently mentioned benefits of health IT has been a reduction in medical errors. However, recent news reports have noted incidents of health IT errors. An article in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [a series, actually, here and here- ed.] cited a baby who was killed while computerized IV equipment prepared a lethal dose of an intravenous sodium chloride solution. The machine did not catch the pharmacy technician’s error. The article also noted that when a hepatitis C-positive kidney was accidentally transplanted from a live donor into a recipient, the physician team missed the electronic records alert, and the physicians complained that their electronic records system is cumbersome and difficult to adjust to any one physician’s needs.

[You can be sure that my writings on health IT mission hostility, poor quality, lack of regulation, etc. as well as the cases of health IT-related injury and death I know of, including that of my own relative, will find their way to Rep. Ellmer's office - ed.]

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study of almost 4,000 computer-generated prescriptions that were received by a pharmacy chain. The report found that 12 percent of the prescriptions contained errors, which, the report said, is consistent with error rates with handwritten prescriptions. [I wrote about that here - ed.]

A modern, well-equipped office is critical to the practice of medicine, and health IT offers promise to all medical professionals. [But only when done well - and there is massive complexity behind those simple two words "done well" that is poorly recognized and/or ignored - ed.] Health IT has the potential to improve health care delivery, decrease medical errors, increase clinical and administration efficiency, and reduce paperwork.

We most do all we can to ensure a commitment to our health care system and patient care. As technology rapidly evolves, I ask that you consider a study of health IT’s adoption, benefits and cost effectiveness.

[Cart before the horse when being done AFTER a national multi-billion dollar rollout is put into law,
as I wrote here, but better late than never - ed.]

As part of the study, I hope you will also consider medical error rates — both human and technological --so that all errors can he better assessed and prevented.

[I have been calling for this for years now - ed.]

Renee Ellmers

Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology
House Committee on Small Business

I find this letter from a leading member of the House of Representatives remarkable. Importantly, Chairwoman Ellmers has a medical background (HHS Secretary Sebelius, to my knowledge, does not). Here is part of Chairwoman Ellmer's background from Wikipedia:

In 1990, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. Ellmers worked as a nurse in Beaumont Hospital's surgical intensive care unit. In North Carolina, she was clinical director of the Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn.

The only other letters like it asking questions like this that I know of came from a Republican Senator to the HIT vendors, Sen. Grassley of Iowa (see here and here). Sen. Grassley also wrote directly on HIT problems to HHS Secretry Sebelius on Feb. 24, 2010; see the letter here.

-- SS