Hospitals asked to report problems with e-health records

Some software is producing improper medication dosages, Grassley says

The ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee this week asked 31 hospitals and health-care systems to provide feedback on problems with computer systems associated with the government's efforts to incent the rollout of electronic health records (EHR).

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), asked in a Jan. 19 letter, that the health facilities, which include some of the nation's largest, to inform him of any "issues or concerns that have been raised by your health care providers" over the past two years.

"Given the taxpayer investment and the investment of the health care system overall in the information technology industry, the more Congress and others overseeing implementation of this program dig into the problems and work to get them sorted out now, the better," Grassley said in a statement today.

Grassley said the letter was prompted by concerns that had been brought to his attention in recent months with regard to EHR systems that included "administrative complications, formatting and usability issues, errors and interoperability."

In some of the most serious cases, incorrect medication dosages are being miscalculated by software that is interchanging patient body weights with kilograms and pounds.

"Some of those providers have expressed frustration about the response, or lack of, they get when they take those kinds of problems to the vendors or the hospital administration," Grassley said.

Hospitals and doctors must begin rolling out EHR systems by 2013 or or risk losing full federal reimbursement money. By 2015, medical facilities risk penalties in the form of lost Medicare reimbursements.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 earmarked about $19 billion in incentives for EHR systems. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act allows for payments of up to $64,000 to each health care operation that deploys an EHR system and proves it's being used effectively by January 2011.

On Dec. 30, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) issued a draft release of its meaningful use rules for e-health systems that would qualify for reimbursement funds. That draft is in a 60-day comment period. Industry experts expect the final version of those rules will be issued around May 1.

Last fall, Grassley wrote directly to major health IT technology vendors regarding issues with e-health technology. His office said he is reviewing responses from the vendors, which include Cerner Corp., 3M, Allscripts, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Computer Sciences Corporation, Eclipsys, Epic Systems Corporation, McKesson Corp., Perot Systems Corp., and Philips Healthcare.

This week, Grassley sent his letter to the following hospitals: Banner Health, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University Hospital Health System, Catholic Healthcare West, Cedars Sinai Children's National Medical Center, Geisinger Medical Center, Hackensack Hospital, HCA TriStar, Intermountain Healthcare, Indiana University Hospital, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente System, Marshfield Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinics, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Methodist Hospital of Indiana, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Saint Mary Mercy Hospital, Seattle Children's Hospital, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Trinity Hospital System Tufts Medical Center, University of California San Francisco Medical Center, University of Pennsylvania Health System, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, University of Virginia Medical Center, and Vanderbilt University Hospital.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, send e-mail to lmearian@computerworld.com or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed .

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