Retaliation against physicians reporting EHR flaws that cause use errors? Physicians subpoenaed in Rhode Island, allegedly after reporting EHR risks

It appears that way to my eye.  First, on use errors (as opposed to user errors from carelessness):

“Use error” is a term used very
specifically by NIST to refer to user interface designs that will
engender users to make errors of commission or omission. It is true that
users do make errors, but many errors are due not to user error per se
but due to designs that are flawed, e.g., poorly written messaging,
misuse of color-coding conventions, omission of information, etc. From NISTIR 7804: Technical Evaluation, Testing and Validation of the Usability of Electronic Health Records. It is available at http://www.nist.gov/healthcare/usability/upload/Draft_EUP_09_28_11.pdf (PDF).

Now this:

Becker’s Hospital Review
Physicians subpoenaed in Rhode Island, allegedly after reporting EHR risks
Jessica Kim Cohen
January 25, 2019
https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/physicians-subpoenaed-in-rhode-island-allegedly-after-reporting-ehr-risks.html

The Rhode Island Department of Health reportedly has served at least four emergency room physicians at Providence-based Rhode Island Hospital with subpoenas, according to the Politico Morning eHealth newsletter.

The subpoenas allege the physicians participated in behaviors that fall under the umbrella of medical misconduct, on account of mistakes the physicians reported themselves. The mistakes, which didn’t injure any patients, reportedly were meant to draw attention to risks associated with the hospital’s EHR.

This is outrageous if accurate, especially considering the issues I raised in my Nov. 4, 2011 post “Lifespan (Rhode Island): Yet another health IT ‘glitch’ affecting thousands – that, of course, caused no patient harm that they know of – yet” at https://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2011/11/lifespan-rhode-island-yet-another.html.

The RI Dept. of Health owes the public an explanation.

The subpoenas primarily relate to medical scans, such as X-rays, which were mistakenly ordered by the physicians. EHR experts who spoke with Politico said these errors are common because it’s easy to click on the wrong icon or patient name in complex system interfaces.

That is classic “use error” and results from poorly-designed, mission-hostile user interfaces of bad health IT as defined by myself and Australian informatics expert Dr. Jon Patrick at at http://cci.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/cases/:

Bad health IT is IT that is ill-suited to purpose, hard to use, unreliable, loses data or provides incorrect data, is difficult and/or prohibitively expensive to customize to the needs of different medical specialists and subspecialists, causes cognitive overload, slows rather than facilitates users, lacks appropriate alerts, creates the need for hypervigilance (i.e., towards avoiding IT-related mishaps) that increases stress, is lacking in security, compromises patient privacy, lacks evidentiary soundness permitting concealment of alterations, or otherwise demonstrates suboptimal design and/or implementation. 

I covered the issue of ‘mission-hostile health IT’ at a 10-part series in 2009 at http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2009/02/are-health-it-designers-idiots-part-1.html

Physicians and EHR safety researchers have raised concerns over the subpoenas, suggesting that the department’s response could discourage future clinicians from voluntarily reporting medical errors.

Not “could.” 

Will, and likely by design in my opinion.  The ultimate motive for the subpoenas and those behind them, which may extend outside the DOH, needs to be determined.

“Anyone punishing individual providers for these events is punishing the wrong thing,” Jason Adelman, MD, chief patient safety officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, told Politico. “These are system issues, not the provider being reckless. The focus should be on things like EHR usability and safety.”

I am aware of patient injuries and deaths as a result of mis-clicks due to mission-hostile user interfaces that confuse users and lack appropriate safety alerts and notifications.  This includes ER mistakes.

The corporate response followed the expected boilerplate:

When asked about the subpoenas Jan. 25, Rhode Island Hospital spokesperson David Levesque [Director of Media Relations, Lifespan, https://www.lifespan.org/news-events/news/media-contacts] provided the following statement to Becker’s Hospital Review:

“Rhode Island Hospital is deeply committed to the safety of our patients and the continual improvement of our healthcare environment, including the processes our caregivers and staff follow. Furthermore, the hospital’s culture of transparency remains a point of pride and is unwavering. Rhode Island Hospital supports our world-class physicians, nurses and other staff and appreciate their tirelessly work in providing world-class healthcare.”

As one colleague of mine observed, “the hospital’s culture of transparency
remains a point of pride” seems to mean that “you can prosecute staff for
being transparent, and it is not a contradiction.”

I wrote Mr. Levesque regarding this story:

From: S Silverstein
Date: Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 10:07 AM

Subject: Re: Physicians subpoenaed in Rhode Island, allegedly after reporting EHR risks

“Rhode Island Hospital is deeply committed to the safety of our patients and the continual improvement of our healthcare environment, including the processes our caregivers and staff follow. Furthermore, the hospital’s culture of transparency remains a point of pride and is unwavering. Rhode Island Hospital supports our world-class physicians, nurses and other staff and appreciate their tirelessly work in providing world-class healthcare.”

Really? 

After the debacle I documented at https://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2011/11/lifespan-rhode-island-yet-another.html , I think this is an outrage.

I am passing this story on to trial lawyers who will likely pass it to the national trial lawyer’s listserv.  I believe these actions are retaliation against the physicians.

I am aware of patient injuries and deaths following “wrong clicks” in ER’s.

Sincerely,

Scot Silverstein MD

The stated source of the subpoenas, DOH, seems odd.  The hospital should strongly defend its doctors against DOH if the DOH was the sole source of the subpoenas and accusations of medical misconduct, not just provide boilerplate.  If DOH was influenced by some other party to take this action, that needs to be revealed.


I hope I am wrong about the retaliation issue, and that this has all been a misunderstanding.  Perhaps Mr. Levesque will clarify.  Perhaps the subpoenas against the physicians who reported the EHR use error issue were issued by the DOH to gain more information about the alleged EHR problems.  If not, I hope they will be summarily dropped. 

If not, I hope the matter gets wider attention, especially at a time when bad health IT is contributing considerably to clinician burnout per numerous studies and reports (see for instance my Jan. 23, 2019 post at https://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2019/01/experts-declare-physician-burnout.html).  Burnout increases risk of medical error for everyone.

Supposed accusations of any type of “professional misconduct” are outrageous, and will have a chilling effect on other like-minded, candid clinicians (including nurses) confronting bad health IT.

— SS

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