Story claims proprietary EMRs could 'screw up' health reform

Washington Monthly, an influential magazine among left-leaning, inside-the-Beltway types, offers a bombshell of an indictment of major EMR vendors in its July cover story, provocatively titled, "Code Red -- How software companies could screw up Obama's health care reform." Author Phillip Longman, who wrote a book about the VistA EMR at the Department of Veterans Affairs, makes the case for open-source software in the coming stimulus-driven EMR spending frenzy by comparing the experiences of Midland (TX) Memorial Hospital and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Midland Memorial chose OpenVista, a VistA derivative from Carlsbad, CA-based Medsphere Systems, and saw infection rates drop by 88 percent, among other improvements. Children's went with Cerner and, according to the article, had all kinds of problems. "Rather than a godsend, the new system turned out to be a disaster, largely because it made it harder for the doctors and nurses to do their jobs in emergency situations. The computer interface, for example, forced doctors to click a mouse ten times to make a simple order," Longman writes about Children's.

One reason for this disparity, according to Longman, is that today's VistA is the result of nearly three decades of continuous improvement by users from around the world, while Cerner's product "was designed by software engineers using locked, proprietary code that medical professionals were barred from seeing, let alone modifying." Longman expects the multibillion-dollar federal investment in EMRs to fall short of its goals, largely because the stimulus law "disadvantages" open-source and other "upstart" products.

The story isn't up yet on the Washington Monthly site, but we can't wait to hear what Cerner and its big-name brethren have to say about this story. Meantime:

- check out the blog of open-source booster Dr. Scott Shreeve, who includes the full text of the article
- read this Forbes interview with the CIO of Midland Memorial
- have a look at this Associated Press story that paints Children's in a much more favorable light