"The Gray Lady" Stumbles: How Could The New York Times Get Things So Wrong?

February 20, 2013
1 Comments
America’s leading daily newspaper uncharacteristically mischaracterizes HITECH and EHRs

 

It honestly pains me to say it, because I profoundly admire The New York Times, America’s most substantive daily newspaper, and a publication that every single day provides its readers nationally and internationally with some of the best public policy, political, business, cultural and arts reporting anywhere. But, all that having been said, it shocked me that “The Gray Lady,” as the Times has often been called in the past, would publish, in the right-hand column of page 1 of its print edition today (February 20), no less, a story that completely misses the point about the purpose and successes to date of the HITECH Act.

"A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits," by Julie Creswell, seems to go out of its way to misunderstand and misconstrue the core purpose of the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, as well as to virtually ignore its benefits. The opening one-sentence paragraph says it all. Creswell writes, of a presentation by the Chicago-based Allscripts to physicians in 2009, “It was a tantalizing pitch: come get a piece of a $19 billion government ‘giveaway.’” First of all, characterizing HITECH as a “giveaway,” without in any way mentioning the penalties embedded in the law for providers who haven’t implemented electronic records (EHRs) by the end of 2015, is simply irresponsible journalism.

The whole point of HITECH was and is to compel physicians and hospitals to implement EHRs in order to get rid of the paper-based medical records that have bedeviled healthcare for decades, and which have been the source of so much inefficiency and so many medical errors. Granted, it is true that one of the unintended effects of HITECH has been to further solidify the position of the EHR vendors that were already highly successful. Indeed, on a personal level, it concerns me greatly that HITECH could end up unintentionally further advantaging EHR behemoths that need no further advantages, and could end up crushing worthy smaller rivals.

Nevertheless, to imply strongly that HITECH was ever intended to be a boondoggle to EHR vendors whose senior executives gave generous donations to members of Congress completely mischaracterizes what HITECH was, and is. For perspective, Ms. Creswell could easily have noted that no other large industry in the United States remains even remotely as paper-based as healthcare does, even now, a few years into the meaningful use process; or that study after study has confirmed the benefits to patient safety, care coordination, and cost-effectiveness of the automation of patient records. Her failure to do so is troubling, and unfortunately, her article made page one of today’s Times, where it will undoubtedly be read by many thousands of laypeople who may or may not have any sense of how misguided and distorted its core thesis is.

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Comments

Both viewpoints have merit and are not mutually exclusive

I found the referenced NYT article to be in fact accurate. I also found your viewpoint to be valid as well. The NYT article did not disparage the value of digital medical records. Your viewpoint came across to me as taking offense and objecting to the statements of windfall profits for those involved in the conversion of paper medical records to digital ones.

A reality which must be kept in the forefront while taking an overview of the digital records process is the fact that this was a government mandate. In preliminary test runs in Hawaii, the US Federal government "suggested" and paid for the conversion and file sharing of all medical records in Hawaii. Subsequently, all states were required to convert medical records. The other medical services in the remaining 49 states had to do so at their own expense.

The NYT article identified some byproducts of HITECH. It has certainly financially benefited the IT industry. Other direct results are created by HITECH as well. Some of them are insidious, such as the effortless access to patient data in any non-consensual medical experimentation, as well as easy of unauthorized access to medical information for a wide range of motivations. There could be potential massive loss of critical access to information due to technical difficulties within the best managed plan. These are examples of realities.

I believe the future will include further and perhaps more serious consequences of HITECH for patients.

In conclusion, HITECH has value as well as causing burden and aswell as creating unintended consequences which will, in all likelihood be grave, at least for a portion of the population at some time.

I don't believe it's inherently necessary to take a polarized position on this issue because of association with any of HITECH's elements. It is a multi-impact process.

Thank you for the opportunity to convey my response.