Grassley suspects health IT may cause medication errors

Health IT may be contributing to drug errors, Grassley says

The federal government’s distribution of $19 billion to doctors and hospitals that deploy electronic health record systems may be contributing to errors in patient care due to software problems, according to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

“I have heard from health care providers regarding faulty software that produced incorrect medication dosages because it miscalculated body weights by interchanging kilograms and pounds,” Grassley wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to 31 hospitals.

Grassley said he has become increasingly aware of difficulties and challenges associated with the EHR systems. “The reported problems appear to be associated with administrative complications in implementation, formatting and usability issues, and actual computer errors stemming from the programs themselves, as well as, interoperability between programs," he wrote.

Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee that oversees Medicare and Medicaid, and said he has a special duty to investigate allegations of those problems because the distribution is being conducted by Medicare and Medicaid.

The Obama administration and Congress approved the $19 billion in health IT funding in the economic stimulus law a year ago. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Department on Dec. 30 released regulations on how doctors and hospitals may qualify for funding.

Grassley asked the hospitals to answer a series of questions about their experiences with the stimulus funding for health IT.

In addition to allegations of new medical errors being created, Grassley said some providers have described difficulties in resolving such problems, especially when their contracts for buying the health IT include bans on talking about the systems.

“I have heard from health care providers around the country that when they report such problems to their facilities and/or the product vendors, their concerns are sometimes ignored or dismissed,” Grassley wrote.

“Some sources recount difficulties in approaching the Health IT vendor with problems and the lack of venue to discuss these issues either with the vendor or peer organizations. Often this is attributed to alleged 'gag orders' or non-disclosure clauses in the Health IT contract that prohibit health care providers and their facilities from sharing information outside of their facilities regarding product defects and other Health IT product-related concerns,” Grassley wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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