AHA endorsement of AT&T HIE services recalls ill-fated AMA-Sunbeam deal

The following item came across the newswires last week:

"The American Hospital Association [AHA] today announced that it has exclusively endorsed AT&T's Healthcare Information Exchange [HIE] services, recognizing the strength of AT&T's integrated network and solutions offering. AHA Solutions, Inc., a subsidiary of AHA, awards the AHA endorsement to products and services that help member hospitals and health care organizations achieve operational excellence, and endorsed AT&T following an extensive evaluation selection process of various HIE service providers."

Upon reading this, one thought jumped into my mind: the American Medical Association's ill-fated endorsement of Sunbeam home-health products in 1997. The physician organization took substantial heat for endorsing commercial products without testing what it was putting its stamp of approval on. Less than a week after announcing the exclusive, five-year deal, an embarrassed AMA backed away.

Is that what we have here with the AHA and AT&T? Not exactly. For one thing, it's a commercial subsidiary of the AHA, not the organization itself, that is endorsing AT&T's HIE offering. AHA Solutions has endorsed other products, whereas the Sunbeam deal was the first commercial endorsement the AMA had made in its 150-year history. And the AHA is merely recommending AT&T to its membership, presumably with a negotiated discount, while the AMA had agreed to put its substantial name recognition behind products being sold to the public. (Though it's primarily a lobbying organization that's open to any licensed physician, you'd be surprised how many people erroneously think the AMA is a regulatory body that licenses doctors to practice.)

These differences aside, am I the only person here troubled by the news? Just because AHA Solutions has endorsed other products before doesn't make it right. Will anyone believe that the AHA stamp of approval guarantees the privacy and security of health information sent over AT&T's network, for example?

OK, maybe that's a stretch. I'd really be worried, though, if someone like the Joint Commission starts endorsing products. - Neil