Contemporary Issues in Medical Informatics: Good Health IT, Bad Health IT, and Common Examples of Healthcare IT Difficulties
Cart Before the Horse Again: AHRQ's "Health IT Hazard Manager"

Cart Before the Horse Again:  AHRQ's "Health IT Hazard Manager"

In a July 2010 essay "Meaningful Use Final Rule: Have the Administration and ONC Put the Cart Before the Horse on Health IT?" and an Oct . 2010 essay "Cart before the horse, again: IOM to study HIT patient safety for ONC; should HITECH be repealed?" I wrote about the postmodern "ready, fire, aim" approach to health IT:

In the first essay I wrote:

... These "usability" problems require long term solutions. There are no quick fix, plug and play solutions. Years of research are needed, and years of system migrations as well for existing installations.  Yet we now have an HHS Final Rule on "meaningful use" regarding experimental, unregulated medical devices the industry itself admits have major usability problems, along with a growing body of literature on the risks entailed.

It it hard to imagine how more "cart before the horse" government can get.

In the second essay, I wrote:

... So, in the midst of a National Program for Health IT in the United States (NPfIT in the U.S.), with tens of billions of dollars earmarked for health IT already (money we don't really have, but it can be printed quickly, or borrowed from China) the IOM is going to study health IT safety, prevention of health IT-related errors, etc. ... only now?

Here we go yet again.

The problem with the AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of HHS) announcement below of a webinar about a new tool for identifying, categorizing, and resolving health IT hazards, as I have written before, is putting the "cart before the horse" and throwing medical ethics to the wind.

If we've just developed a tool "for identifying, categorizing, and resolving health IT hazards", the magnitude of which others such as IOM admit are unknown to our detriment (e.g., Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care, pg. S-2), then health IT is, it follows, an experimental technology.

If it is an experimental technology, it also follows that AHRQ and others in HHS should be raising the issue of a slow down or moratorium on widespread rollout under HITECH until risk management and remediation is better understood.  At the very least they should be calling for patient informed consent that a device that will largely regulate their care is experimental, that a competency "gap" exists among healthcare practitioners within the "health IT environment" (meaning patients are at risk), and that patients should be offered the opportunity for informed consent with opt-out provisions. 

While a move in the right direction, although with the horse and cart in the wrong order, the principals should not merely be announcing a webinar:

Sent: Tuesday, June 05, 2012 12:23 PM
Subject: Register Now! AHRQ Health IT Webinar "Purpose and Demonstration of the Health IT Hazard Manager and Next Steps" June 11, 2:30 PM ET

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Purpose and Demonstration of the Health IT Hazard Manager and Next Steps

June 11, 2012 — 2:30-4 p.m., EST

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has identified a gap in a health care/public health practitioner’s competency within the health IT environment. This webinar is designed to increase practitioners’ competencies in several areas: improving health care decision making; supporting patient-centered care; and enhancing the quality and safety of medication management by improving the ability to identify, categorize, and resolve health IT hazards.

The Webinar will explore the Health IT Hazard Manager—a tool for identifying, categorizing, and resolving health IT hazards. When implemented, the tool allows health care organizations and software vendors alike to learn about potential hazards and work to resolve them, including the use of data to communicate potential and actual adverse effects. The session will discuss how the Health IT Hazard Manager was tested and refined as well as strategies and implications for deploying it. The target audience includes AHRQ grantees/researchers; health care providers, including physicians and nurses; consumers/patients; and health care policymakers.

... Webinar learning objectives include:

1. Describe the rationale for developing the Health IT Hazard Manager and how it evolved through alpha and beta testing.
2. Explain the process for identifying and categorizing health IT-related hazards.
3. Demonstrate how the Health IT Hazard Manager would be used [i.e., it's not yet in use, despite mandates for HIT rollout with penalties for non-adopters - ed.] within and across care delivery organizations and health IT software vendors.
4. Discuss policy and process implications for deploying the Health IT Hazard Manager via different organizations (i.e., AHRQ; Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT; Patient Safety Organization(s); Accrediting bodies; IT entities).

In effect, HHS seems to be saying "we're working on the HIT risk problem, but roll it out anyway; if you get harmed or killed, tough luck."  This seems a form of negligence.

We apparently have thrown out, as a culture, all we know about medical research and human subjects protections in face of the allegedly miraculous powers (and not very theoretical profits) of computers in medicine.