It honestly pains me to say it, because I profoundly admire The New York Times, America’s most substantive daily newspaper, and a publication that every single day provides its readers nationally and internationally with some of the best public policy, political, business, cultural and arts reporting anywhere. But, all that having been said, it shocked me that “The Gray Lady,” as the Times has often been called in the past, would publish, in the right-hand column of page 1 of its print edition February 20, no less, a story that completely misses the point about the purpose and successes to date of the HITECH Act.
"A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits," by Julie Creswell, seems to go out of its way to misunderstand and misconstrue the core purpose of the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, as well as to virtually ignore its benefits. The opening one-sentence paragraph says it all. Creswell writes, of a presentation by the Chicago-based Allscripts to physicians in 2009, “It was a tantalizing pitch: come get a piece of a $19 billion government ‘giveaway.’” First of all, characterizing HITECH as a “giveaway,” without in any way mentioning the penalties embedded in the law for providers who haven’t implemented electronic records (EHRs) by the end of 2015, is simply irresponsible journalism.
The whole point of HITECH was and is to compel physicians and hospitals to implement EHRs in order to get rid of the paper-based medical records that have bedeviled healthcare for decades, and which have been the source of so much inefficiency and so many medical errors. Granted, it is true that one of the unintended effects of HITECH has been to further solidify the position of the EHR vendors that were already highly successful. Indeed, on a personal level, it concerns me greatly that HITECH could end up unintentionally further advantaging EHR behemoths that need no further advantages, and could end up crushing worthy smaller rivals.
Nevertheless, to imply strongly that HITECH was ever intended to be a boondoggle to EHR vendors whose senior executives gave generous donations to members of Congress completely mischaracterizes what HITECH was, and is. For perspective, Ms. Creswell could easily have noted that no other large industry in the United States remains even remotely as paper-based as healthcare does, even now, a few years into the meaningful use process; or that study after study has confirmed the benefits to patient safety, care coordination, and cost-effectiveness of the automation of patient records. Her failure to do so is troubling, and unfortunately, her article made page one of today’s Times, where it will undoubtedly be read by many thousands of laypeople who may or may not have any sense of how misguided and distorted its core thesis is.