Grassley demands answers from vendors; Blumenthal calls current systems 'primitive'

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) apparently has begun an investigation of the major EMR and HIT vendors, particularly in the area of computerized physician order entry (CPOE). "Over the past year, I have received complaints from patients, medical practitioners and technologies engineers regarding difficulties they have encountered with the HIT and CPOE devices in their medical facilities. These complaints include, for example, faulty software that miscalculated intracranial pressures and interchanged kilograms and pounds, resulting in incorrect medication dosages," Grassley wrote in an Oct. 16 letter he sent to 10 companies. The letter, which surfaced this week, also accused vendors of issuing contracts that shift responsibility for errors in HIT systems to the providers that use the technology.

"Every accountability measure ought to be used to track the stimulus money invested in health information technology," the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee added.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Grassley sent correspondence to: 3M, Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions, Cerner, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Computer Sciences Corp., Eclipsys, Epic Systems, McKesson, Perot Systems and Philips Healthcare. Cerner, McKesson and Allscripts made short statements to the Journal indicating their willingness to cooperate with Grassley. National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal told the Washington Post that systems do have flaws, but on the whole, they do lead to better care than paper records can offer.

At the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives fall symposium in Indian Wells, Calif., on Wednesday, Blumenthal said the stimulus was necessary because health IT, to this point, has been a "huge market failure that has inhibited progress" toward an interoperable health system. Epic COO Carl Dvorak later got up to defend his company, to which Blumenthal responded that today's EMR systems are "very primitive compared to what we'll see in 10 to 15 years."

Blumenthal also said that Grassley "is doing what entrepreneurial senators do."

For more:
- have a look at this Wall Street Journal blog post
- check out this Washington Post story
- read the Grassley letter (.pdf)