Grassley: Vendor 'gag orders' prevent HIT issues from being reported and resolved

Concerns from healthcare providers about errors and complications associated with using healthcare information technology have prompted Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to send a lengthy list of questions to 31 hospitals nationwide. The questions focus on how the organizations report, analyze and track HIT-related issues and concerns, among other things. 

The letter stems from a growing number of reports about interoperability problems between HIT programs; administrative complications related to implementation, formatting and usability issues; and actual computer errors stemming from the programs themselves.

For example, one problem brought to Grassley's attention involves "faulty software" that provides the wrong medication dosages for patients due to a glitch that interchanges kilograms and pounds.  

Particularly troublesome, he says, is that such concerns are often ignored or dismissed due to "gag order" clauses in many vendor contracts. These nondisclosure agreements "prohibit health care providers and their facilities from sharing information outside of their facilities regarding product defects and other HIT product-related concerns," Grassley writes.  

He points out the need for a national system for reporting product errors and HIT-related adverse events, such as the FDA has for regulated medical devices.

"Given the taxpayer investment and the investment of the healthcare system overall in the information technology industry, the more Congress and others overseeing implementation of this program dig into the problems and work to get them sorted out now, the better," Grassley writes. 

Grassley penned a similar letter to HIT vendors such as 3M, Allscripts-Misys and Cerner last fall, also citing complaints about the devices used. At the time, Dr. David Blumenthal, national health IT coordinator, said that Grassley was "doing what entrepreneurial senators do." 

To learn more about Grassley's efforts:
- read this press release
- read his letter to the hospitals