Words that Work: Singing Only Positive - And Often Unsubstantiated - EHR Praise As "Advised" At The University Of Arizona Health Network

When clinicians are told to promote a technology in no uncertain terms, that puts a chilling effect on critical thinking and discourse.  In effect, when under orders to only speak positively about a hospital or its technology, saying anything bad could very likely get clinicians labeled as 'troublemakers' or 'disruptive clinicians.'  Sometimes - in a sadly real example at Affinity Health - it may even get threats of having complaints plastered to one's forehead (see http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/07/hows-this-for-patient-rights-affinity.html), a threat answered to by a judge.

The 'disruptive' label usually does not have a good effect on one's evaluations and job (or, for doctors, even career) longevity.  See, for example, the resources at http://www.aapsonline.org/index.php/article/sham_peer_review_resources_physicians/ on sham peer review.

At University of Arizona Health Network (UAHN), clinicians are being told to promote the EPIC EHR.

The campaign is under the aegis of executives who know, should know, or should have made it their business to know the mayhem caused at other medical centers by EPIC and other major clinical IT systems (see for example query links http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/EPIC and http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/healthcare%20IT%20difficulties).

Here's what clinicians are bring told in the Oct. 3, 2013 "Weekly update for UAHN employees":

Words that Work 

Talking positively to our patients about our new Electronic Health Record system is important! Here are some key words and phrases you can use to emphasize the many benefits of the new system:
  • Electronic health record (not ‘Epic’ or ‘EHR’)
  • One comprehensive record
  • Coordinated care
  • Improves patient safety & quality
  • Convenient, easy patient portal 
  • Private and secure
Click here for more words and behaviors to inspire confidence in our patients (and ourselves) as we transition to this new system.

The link to "more words" produced this PDF:

"Words that Work" - If I worked there, I would be concerned that that using "words that don't work" about a project that probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars would likely injure my career.  Click to enlarge.

This is shameless.  Many of these claims are unsubstantiated or in significant doubt in the literature.


They left out issues such as these:

• The software is tested and validated for safety by nobody, including traditional medical device safety testers.

• No postmarket surveillance for problems, either.

• Transparency about problems that can cause patient harm is severely impeded by systematic impediments to information flow (as per IOM's 2012 study of health IT safety at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2012/03/doctors-and-ehrs-reframing-modernists-v.html, FDA via their leaked Internal Memo on HIT safety as at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/08/smoking-gun-internal-fda-memorandum-of.html, the Joint Commission in their Sentinel Events Alert on Health IT as at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2008/12/joint-commission-sentinel-events-alert.html, and others.)

• Problems known are only the "tip of the iceberg" (FDA, ECRI Institute), as at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/02/fda-on-health-it-adverse-consequences.html and http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/02/peering-underneath-icebergs-water-level.html

Of the claims they do make:

Efficient - see aforementioned links as well as "Common Examples of Healthcare IT Difficulties" at http://cci.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/cases/

Convenient - as above.  According to whom?  Compared to what?  Pen and paper?

Improves patient safety and quality - see IOM report post at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2011/11/iom-report-on-health-it-safety-nix-fda.html .  We as a nation are only now studying safety of this technology, and the results are not looking entirely convincing, e.g. ECRI Deep Dive Study of health IT safety at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/02/peering-underneath-icebergs-water-level.html.  171 health IT mishaps in 36 hospitals, voluntarily reported over 9 weeks, with 8 reported injuries and 3 reported possible deaths is not what I would call something that "improves patient safety and quality" without qualifications.

The Cadillac of its kind - according to whom?

Patients at hospitals using this system love it -  Do most patients even know what it, or any EHR, looks like?  Have they provided informed consent to its use?

Exciting - clinician surveys such as by physicians at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/01/honest-physician-survey-on-ehrs.html and by nurses at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/07/candid-nurse-opinions-on-ehrs-at.html shed doubt on that assertion.

The best thing for our patients - again, according to whom?

Sophisticated new system - "New"?  Not so much, just new for U. Arizona Health.  "Sophisticated", as if that's a virtue?  Too much "sophistication" is in part what causes clinician stress and burnout, raising risk; see this summary of a new, not-free JAMIA article "Electronic medical records and physician stress in primary care: results from the MEMO Study", J Am Med Inform Assoc amiajnl-2013-001875 at http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/the-relationship-between-emrs-and-physician-stress.html.   From that summary:

... Compared with physicians at clinics with low-function EMRs, physicians at clinics with moderate-function EMRs experienced significantly more stress and had a higher rate of burnout. Additionally, physicians at clinics with moderate- or high-function EMRs felt less satisfied with their current position overall.
... Results also showed a significant relationship between time pressure and physician stress in the cohort with high-function EMRs, and only in this cohort, suggesting physicians at these clinics may be particularly pressured for time during patient encounters in the face of a large number of EMR functions. "This 'made sense' to us in thinking about the possibility that those in the high-use group had more to do in the EMR" [say the authors].

Smartest program out there - "Smartest" meaning what, exactly?  According to whom?  Who performed the comparison?

Streamlined - compared to what?

Thank you for your patience - even if the effects on clinicians gets you or your loved ones maimed or killed?

Safe and secure network - really?  No break ins, ever, considering multiple breach stories like those at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/medical%20record%20privacy?

Keeping you informed is our priority - informed of what?

Specially trained staff - like these:  http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/08/epics-outrageous-recommendations-on.html?

and this:

Take Responsibility - I ask, should clinicians "take responsibility" for IT-related disruptions that impair care such as "use error" (as opposed to user error), i.e., what the National Institute of Standards and Technology has called operator error due to poor usability and other features of bad health IT?  (See "NIST on the EHR Mission Hostile User Experience" at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2011/10/nist-on-ehr-mission-hostile-user.html.)  What about "glitches" and bugs that corrupt or lose data?  Should clinicians also 'take responsibility' for those?  (See for example the posts on the wild things that happen when IT malpractice leads to clinical mayhem at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/glitch.)

It appears to me that this vendor is using its client hospitals' management to enforce an "acceptable point of view" clinicians must proffer to patients about EHRs (which they must call "health" records), despite well-known contradictory findings.  This is, in effect, forced marketing of a device.

Trying that for a drug or a conventional medical device (e.g., a particular stent) would be on its face unethical and likely illegal.

Finally, critical thinking is what keeps patients alive and safe.  Marketing measures like this (some might call it "propaganda"), espousing and enforcing 'EHR exceptionalism', in my opinion, damage critical thinking and expression, and are thus unacceptable to push on clinicians and on patients.

I add that requiring clinicians to promote deceptive propaganda the clinicians themselves know is untrue, from painful experience, is degrading, intimidating and destroys morale.  It is axiomatic that clinicians (or anyone) operating under such conditions cannot perform at their best.

Thus the management geniuses who came up with these instructions (if not outright vendor-ghostwritten as at the Aug. 2012 "Health IT Vendor EPIC Caught Red-Handed: Ghostwriting And Using Customers as Stealth Lobbyists", http://www.tinyurl.com/epic-stealth) are by their actions increasing risk of patient harm.

The nurses' unions at at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2013/07/rns-say-sutters-new-electronic-system.html have it right, in my view:  complain about the disruptions this technology causes, and complain loudly, if at the very least to make sure the problems are out in the open.

-- SS

Words that Work: Singing Only Positive - And Often Unsubstantiated - EHR Praise As "Advised" At The University Of Arizona Health Network | Admin | 5