In my keynote address to the Health Informatics Society of Australia in Sydney recently, I cautioned attendees including those in government to be wary of healthcare IT hyper-enthusiast misdirection and logical fallacy (a.k.a. public relations).
In the LA Times story "Patient data outage exposes risks of electronic medical records" on the Cerner EHR outage I wrote of in my post "Massive Health IT Outage: But, Of Course, Patient Safety Was Not Compromised" (the title, of course, being satirical), Jacob Reider, acting chief medical officer at the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is quoted. He said:
"These types of outages are quite rare and there's no way to completely eliminate human error."
This is precisely the type of political spin and hyper-enthusiast misdirection I cautioned the Australian health authorities to evaluate critically.
As comedian Scott Adams humorously noted regarding irrelevancy, a hundred dollars is a good price for a toaster, compared to buying a Ferrari.
Further, when you're the patient harmed or killed, or the victim is a family member, you really don't care how "rare" the outages are.
Airline crashes are "rare", too. So, shall they just be tolerated as a "cost of doing business" and spun away?
(As I once wrote, the asteroid colliding with Earth that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs was a truly "rare" event.)
It seems absurd for me to have to point out that paper, unless there is a mass outbreak of use of disappearing ink, or locally hosted clinical IT, do not go blank en masse across multiple states and countries for any length of time, raising risk across multiple hospitals greatly, acutely and simultaneously. Yet, I have to point out this obvious fact in the face of misdirection.
Locally hosted health IT, of course, can only cause "local" chart disappearances. "Local" is a relative term, however, depending on HC organization size, as in the example of a Dec. 2011 regional University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) 14-hour outage affecting thousands here.
Further, EHR's and other clinical IT, whether hosted locally or afar, had better offer truly major advantages, without major risks and disadvantages, over older medical records technologies before exposing large numbers of patients to an invasive IT industry and the largest unconsented human subjects experiment in history.
Unfortunately, those basic criteria are not yet apparent with today's systems (see for instance this reading list).
EHR's and other clinical IT, forming in reality an enterprise clinical resource management and clinician workflow control apparatus, have introduced new risk modes including mass chart theft (sometimes tens of thousands in the blink of an eye); also, mass chart disappearances as in this case - all not possible with paper.
At the very least, if hospitals want enterprise clinical resource management and clinician workflow control systems, these should not be relegated to a distant third party. Patients are not guinea pigs upon whom to test the ASP software model ("software as a service") that, upon failure for any reason, threatens their lives.
Finally, these complications are a further example why this industry cannot go on without meaningful oversight. The unprecedented special medical device regulatory accommodations must end.