EMR Rollouts: Are They Ethical?

Posted on February 28, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Here’s something you should really see for yourself. Over at Dr. Wes’s blog, the good doctor has written a long and thoughtful post on whether rolling out EMRs to patients actually constitutes medical experimentation without patient consent.

I thought readers who don’t have time to read all of Dr. Wes’s carefully-structured argument might be interested in hearing a bit of what he has to say, as I believe his conclusions are important. Here’s some of his assertions:

*  EMR costs are ultimately passed along to patients, whether they like it or not. And with insurance premiums climbing as much as 20 percent in 2013, patients are already having serious trouble paying for care.

* With EMRs still not interoperable in most cases, the efficiencies we’d hoped for largely aren’t showing up yet.  In fact, EMRs are adding to inefficiencies as doctors struggle to add needless data to electronic charts.

* With health data breeches continuing and errors growing, EMRs may be part of the problem and not the solution.

So, he suggests that we take a pause and ask ourselves some tough questions:

Does the ends of presumed cost savings to our national health care system justify the deployment of poorly integrated, difficult-to-use systems? Are patients being subjected to new risks heretofore never considered with the adoption of this technology? Could a tiny programming error occur that negatively impacts not just one patient, but millions? If so, what are the safeguards in place to prevent catastrophic error? Who will be responsible? Who is the oversight body that assures the guiding principles of the Belmont Report (respect for persons, beneficence and justice) with respect to EMR deployment are followed? The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services or a more nebulous body like Congress?

Dr. Wes, in summary, wonders whether it’s unethical to roll out EMRs en masse given the still-unanswered questions about their benefits, their safety and their efficiency. And I think he’s asked a question worth answering. How about you?