We don’t win anymore in health care. After repeatedly drilling in our heads that America’s sick care system is a disaster, that those who care for the sick are incompetent and stupid, and that the sick themselves are losers, Meaningful Use was advertised as the means by which technology will make health care great again.
The program has been in place for 5 years and the great promise of Meaningful Use is just around the same corner it was back in 2011. The only measurable changes from the pre Meaningful Use era are the billions of dollars subtracted from our treasury and the minutes subtracted from our time with our doctors, balanced only by the expenses added to our medical bills and the misery added to physicians’ professional lives.
Meaningful Use, a metastasizing web of mandates, regulations, exclusions, incentives and penalties, is conveniently defined in the abstract as a set of indisputably wholesome aspirational goals for EHR software and its users, which stands in stark contrast to the barrage of bad news flooding every health related publication, every single day. Health care in America used to be the best in the world, but now our health care is crippled. Meaningful Use of EHR technology will improve quality, safety, efficiency, care coordination, and public and population health. It will engage patients and families, and it will ensure privacy and security for personal health information. With Meaningful Use leading the way, health care will be winning so much that your head will be spinning. You won’t believe how much we’ll be winning.
Be afraid, be very afraid
Bombastic? Laughable? Easily dismissible by educated people? Not so fast. According to Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, and former National Coordinator for Health IT, “we probably have the worst primary care system in the world”. Yes, worst system in the whole wide world, worse than Niger, Malawi and Somalia. Probably. According to a hobbyist “study” that extrapolates its “results” from a handful of other studies based on an admittedly inaccurate tool intended for different purposes, 440,000 people are killed in hospitals due to preventable errors each year – “that’s the equivalent of nearly 10 jumbo jets crashing every week”. Or, with a little more math, half of all hospital deaths, and one in six US deaths, are due to negligent homicide perpetrated by psychopathic doctors and nurses.
How is that for buffoonery? I suspect that the beautiful minds appalled at populist or outright racist fear mongering rhetoric claiming that thousands of Muslims were dancing on rooftops on 9/11 in New Jersey, have zero problems with self-servingly stating that “hospitals are killing off the equivalent of the entire population of Atlanta one year, Miami the next, then moving to Oakland, and on and on”, based on equally valid he-said-she-said evidence. Both virulent strains of outlandish demagoguery are insisting that they, and only they, can keep us safe from things that go bump in the night. Supersizing the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties makes us more likely to relinquish control of our lives to those who might deliver us from terror.
The Meaningful Use program rests on a narrative where medicine is witchcraft, our doctors are murderers, our hospitals are cesspools teeming with death, our citizens are Lemmings unable to wipe their noses, and the machines of the illuminati are our only salvation. When the premise of an action is delusional, one cannot expect the outcomes to be anything but.
Smoke and mirrors
When you read “studies” advertising that Meaningful Use increased the rates of mammography by 90% in three months, you should assume that the only thing that was increased is the rate of ticking boxes for stuff that was not documented before, and practically no material changes have occurred. When you feel vindicated by the 99% rate of patients given a clinical summary after each visit, keep in mind that the vast majority of those summaries were posted to a portal that nobody uses, or just fake-printed to PDF, and the few actually given out were dutifully tossed in the recyclable trash bin. When you read about the billions of dollars in tax money successfully spent on Meaningful Use, you should understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the indirect costs to each and single one of us are larger by orders of magnitude.
For most of us simpleton believers, who mistook fiery demagogues for brave-hearted visionaries, the disappointment is a throbbing daily humiliation, manifesting itself in polite low-energy petitions to powerful bureaucrats to take pity on us and roll back some of the most onerous aspects of the program. There are signs indicative of some forthcoming acts of mercy, but those are as disingenuous as the original false narrative of Meaningful Use. After five years of Meaningful Use of EHR technology, the initial hope has failed to translate into promised change. Or has it?
From its inception, the Meaningful Use program had two sets of requirements. One set defines what EHR vendors must build to stay in business, and another set specifies what doctors and hospitals must do to collect gratuity payments from Medicare. Over time these requirements sets began to diverge. Once clinicians became conditioned to compulsively collect data, overt reporting is being replaced with covert extraction through the backend (i.e. application programming interfaces, or APIs).
The Certified EHR Technology mandated by the program was never intended to extend abilities of clinicians as much as it was designed to generate standardized measures of their performance. Administrators and regulators cannot control an industry from afar without incessant measurement and the power to reward and punish individual practitioners. Meaningful Use is designed to enable remote control of medicine, its doctors and the people they serve.
We are not alone
Back in 2001 our rulers identified another field where America was losing big time. Education was a disaster, a huge mess with rampant disparities and across the board low quality. Like health care, education of small children is an ideal place for intervention if your aim is to control populations and increase the value derived from each person. With overwhelming bi-partisan support the ruling class passed the No Child Left Behind Act, mandating that all children are above average by 2014.
An avalanche of funding for computers, measurements of schools and teachers and incessant standardized testing of students descended upon our schools. For the last fifteen years, schools were engaged in life and death accountability games of reward and punishment, and our children became merely biometric indicators for school and teacher performance assessments.
As 2014 came and went, with many children still stubbornly below average, with multitudes of teachers still burnt out, and education morphing into a misnomer for the standardized testing doomsday machine consuming all but the rich and privileged, the federal government took a step back and passed the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.
Leaving aside the downright idiotic terminology used for naming acts of Congress, the new legislation is reluctantly beginning a process to diminish federal control of schools. Considering the cumulative damage to our education system, perpetrated by toxic bureaucratic ineptitude which is crowding out the ability of real educators to address real problems, this halfhearted attempt may very well be too little too late.
Failure is not inevitable
I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of having to live up to Winston Churchill’s image of America. We don’t always have to try everything else before we do the right thing. We shouldn’t have to wait fifteen years before declaring that in retrospective Meaningful Use was meaningless. We know now that it is. Removing a few reporting requirements for physicians, while beefing up patient scoring measures, is not enough. Playing with reporting periods at the last minute and granting ad-hoc exclusions to make people shut up, is not enough either. Randomly linking physician fees to Meaningful Use EHRs may be enough, but it’s beyond disgusting. The Meaningful Use program must end. Plain and simple. And most importantly, the underhanded EHR certification schemes must be halted immediately.
Standardization, quantification, computerization, gamification, engagement, and infantilization of the populace in general, do not produce better educated or healthier citizens. Education reform has failed us on a grandiose scale. Health care reform, to which Meaningful Use is foundational, is based on the same failed concepts as education reform. It will also fail in due course and spectacularly so. It is actually failing as we speak and with the exception of elite institutions, which are benefiting financially from as much health care reform as can possibly be inflicted on the rest of us, we all know it’s failing badly. 2016 presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the entrenched perpetrators that in America accountability is a two way street, and value is a freely defined personal concept.
American health care has been hijacked by very bad people, and it’s time for us to quit being sad little losers who just sit there and bitch. It’s time to take our health care back and it’s high time to deliver to those horrible people the thorough schlonging they so richly deserve. It’s time to make American health care great again.
In 2016, resolve to go out and vote. Vote in the primaries, vote in local and general elections, ignore the propaganda, educate yourself and as old Harry Truman advised us all, vote for yourself, for your own interest, for the welfare of the United States, and for the welfare of the world.
Opinions expressed by HIT Consultant Contributors are their own.