Editor's Corner: Patients should not be guinea pigs for a hospital's EHR beta testing

Photo credit: Getty/pandpstock001
Marla Hirsch

Is anyone else as confused as I am about the goings on at Sonoma West Medical Center?

The hospital's former chief nursing officer and former chief financial officer are each suing the facility separately, both claiming they were wrongfully terminated for complaining about the safety of the EHR system in place. 

The nursing officer claims that the EHR, called HarmoniMD, endangered patients’ lives by intermingling medical records, having trouble with tracking and displaying information, miscalculating medication schedules, and other problems.

The CFO additionally claims that the hospital was being used by the EHR developer to test his “defective” and “flawed” EHR; he also says that he was told to cook the books of the financially troubled hospital. The medical and intensive care director of the hospital, James Gude, and the president of the board of directors, Dan Smith, deny that the EHR being used by the facility is flawed, according to an article in the North Bay Business Journal.

This is hardly the first time that hospital staff have expressed concern about the effectiveness and safety of an EHR, especially while it’s being rolled out.

But what’s going on here is potentially more sordid and disturbing than a simple disagreement on the effectiveness of an EHR launch.

It appears that Gude and Smith have a financial interest in HarmoniMD. A big one. It also looks like the EHR is being developed by E-Health Records International, a spinoff of OffSiteCare Resources, a company co-founded by Gude.

Gude is also the medical director of E-Health Records. Gude and Smith are the developers of the software, and both have ownership interests in it.

According to the North Bay Business Journal article, Smith, who is also the hospital’s biggest financial supporter, donated the EHR to the hospital. Sonoma West is the only hospital in the United States using HarmoniMD. It’s supposedly being “piloted” in a handful of other locations in other countries.

Is this for real? Are hospital leaders truly using the hospital--and its patients--as guinea pigs to beta test their homegrown EHR?

Of course, we don’t know the truth yet. The information, so far, comes from allegations in lawsuits and interviews of those involved.

Physicians and hospital executives are certainly known to be entrepreneurial and innovative, designing a better implantable device, creating a protocol that gets adopted by other hospitals and the like.

But for individuals to develop EHRs now seems rather behind the times. Additionally, it’s not like this is occurring in a rural county in an underserved state. This is Sonoma, merely one hour from San Francisco.

I don’t know whether these executives truly believe that they’re creating a superior EHR or that they’ll be able to flip their creation and sell it to a larger developer for a profit. 

But allegations of patient harm are a very serious matter, especially if it’s being handled only after a glitch is discovered and the messengers are being thrown under the bus by losing their jobs. - Marla (@MarlaHirsch and @FierceHealthIT)