Did EPIC CEO Judy Faulkner of Epic declare that ‘healthcare IT usability would be part of certification over her dead body?’

At the HisTALK blog 5/31/10 update, a site with thousands of readers involved in all aspects of health IT, the following anonymous (at this point) report appeared:

From Tabula Rosa: “Re: EMR usability. At one of the ONC Policy Committee meetings, [founder and CEO] Judy Faulkner of Epic supposedly declared that ‘usability would be part of certification over her dead body.’ I wonder if she has similar sentiments about making software accessible to people with disabilities?” Unverified. This inspired my new poll question – keep reading below.

Epic Systems Corporation is one of the largest health IT vendors in the U.S.

If this report is true, it would have very, very serious implications towards the healthcare IT industry’s attitudes about the usability – and ultimately the safety – of its products.

The essential nature of usability and the relationship to safety is not an issue for debate – period. It was settled long ago in relation not only to IT, but also to devices and machinery that use IT. For instance, see the mid 1980’s wisdom written for the U.S. Air Force on user interfaces at my eight part series on mission hostile health IT user experiences at http://tinyurl.com/hostileuserexper. Microsoft and other responsible IT vendors spend billions on usability research.

I think it incumbent of the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, and its leader Dr. David Blumenthal, to confirm or deny that such a statement was made, on or off-record, at an ONC policy committee meeting, and if it was made, its exact context.

If it was made, it would raise the following questions:

  • Would its utterer be saying this out of concern that their products have usability deficiencies that competitors do not, and that are not correctable in a short time frame?
  • How much concern would such a statement indicate for the complex jobs of physicians, nurses and other clinicians whose safe conduct of their medical obligations depends on health IT?
  • How much concern would such a statement imply towards the injured and dead bodies of patients affected by health IT of deficient usability?
  • Since the CEO sets the tone for their company and has the ultimate responsibility for its conduct (and its Board of Directors as well), would such a statement reflect willful negligence and perhaps criminal conduct?

The last question is pertinent, for if, say, the CEO of Boeing were to relate that “usability of the control systems of its aircraft would be an FAA certification requirement over his or her dead body”, or the CEO of oil drilling companies said same about their instrumentation that helps avoid underwater blowouts, I believe it would rise to the level of criminally negligent conduct.

This is all the more pertinent to me, as my relative was just seriously injured by a medication error that appears to have started with the med list in an EMR.

I am seriously wondering, in fact, if the average hospital has the gravitas and political and technologic maturity to truly implement health IT so that the technology is uniformly beneficial, instead of spontaneously harmful, to meet the needs of the grandiose plans for national health IT.

The lack of seriousness, petty political fights, and technological dyscompetence and incompetence I have noted in my 20 years in this field do not seem surmountable in any time frame I consider “soon.”

Here seems to be the health IT industry and hospital MIS department view of healthcare IT, as some sort of game to be played for profit, power and political advantage:

— SS