Is the N-HIN helathcare’s black hole?

Last year scientists turned on the largest machine ever made, the Hadron Collider. It’s a proton accelerator. This all takes place in a donut-shaped underground tube that is 17 miles in circumference.

Fears about the collider centered on two things; black holes and the danger posed by weird hypothetical particles, strangelets, that critics said could transform the Earth almost instantly into a dead, dense lump. Physicists calculated that the chances of this catastrophe were negligible, based on astronomical evidence and assumptions about the physics of the strangelets. One report put the odds of a strangelet disaster at less than one in 50 million, less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots—what they failed to acknowledge is that someone always wins the lottery, so negligible risk exists only in the mind of the beholder.

If I understand the physics correctly from my Physics for Librarians mail-order course—and that’s always a big if—once these protons accelerate to something close to the speed of light, when they collide, the force of the collision causes the resultant mass to have a density so massive that it creates a gravitational field from which nothing can escape. The two protons become a mini black hole. And so forth and so on. Pascal’s triangle on steroids. Two to the nth power (2ⁿ) forever. Every proton, neutron, electron, car, house, and so on.

The collider could do exactly what it was designed to do. Self fulfilling self destruction. Technology run amuck. Let’s personalize it. Instead of a collider, let’s build a national healthcare information network (N-HIN) capable of handling more than 1,000,000 transports a day. What are the rules of engagement?  Turn on the lights and let’s see how it functions.

Let’s say we need to get anybody’s record to anybody’s doctor.  That’s overly simplistic, but if we can’t make sense out of it at this level, the N-HIN is doomed.  The number of possible permutations, although not infinite, is bigger than big.  Can you see what can happen? Strangelets.  The giant sucking sound comes from ARRA and stimulus money as it is pulled in to the black hole.

So what is the present thought leadership proposing to fight the strangelets? Healthcare information exchanges (HIEs)—mini N-HINs.  Regional Exchange Centers (RECs).  A few million, a few billion.  Not only does their plan have them repeating the same flawed approach, they are relying on embedding the same bad idea, and doing it using hundreds of different blueprints.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Stop the craziness. I want to get off.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine. R.E.M.

Interoperability-this is the problem

How does one depict the complexity of the mess being presented as the national roll out plan of electronic health records (EHR) via the national health information network (N-HIN) using Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) designed by Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs), with the help of regional extension centers (RECs) without Standards (Standards) and with N too many vendors?

Class?  Ideas?  Class?

If this looks dumb, undo-able, unimplementable, uninteroperable–it’s because it is.  your vision is fine.

Remember the idea behind all this is to get your health record from point A to point B, any point B.  It’s that little word ‘any’ that turns the problem into a bit of a bugger.

Find yourself in the picture below, pic a dot, any dot (Point A).  Now, find your doctor, any doctor (Point B).  Now figure out how to get from A to B–it’s okay to use a pen on your monitor the help plot your course.   That was difficult. Now do it for every patient and every doctor in the country.

Now, do you really think the DC RHIO-NHIN plan will work?  If EHR were a Disney park, who’s playing the Mouse?

EHR: Is your plan aiming far enough out?

Can being an early adopter save your hospital millions of dollars?  We both know the answer depends on what one happens to adopt.  Suppose we are discussing the adoption of an idea?  Can that be analogous to not adopting another idea?  I think it can.  Allow me to explain.

Many providers are in the process of making a very expensive, highly complex, and wide-ranging decision regarding their healthcare information technology strategy (HIT) for their electronic healthcare records system (EHR).

A non-trivial moment.  Careers will be made and lost as a result—I’m betting more will be lost.  Why?  By making a bad choice on the EHR, on how to implement it, and on how to modify your organization.

I think the choices will be bad not from lack of effort but from lack of understanding of the complete issue.  What is the part of the issue that is lacking?  It’s the part which requires clairvoyance.  Whew, that was easy.

Defining your requirements does not pass the test of necessity and sufficiency.   It’s like playing darts while blindfolded.  The plan to select, implement, and deploy an EHR must account for a number of risky unknowns, including:

  • How will healthcare reform impact my organization
    • What constraints will it produce
    • What demand will it create for new HIT systems
    • What new major operating processes will result
    • When will reform really be implemented
    • How will reform be reformed
    • How will payors, suppliers, and people react to reform
    • How will you offset a resource shortage of fifty percent
    • What will change as a result of
      • Interoperability
      • Certification
      • Meaningful Use
      • Mergers and acquisitions

We don’t know what we don’t know.  That is not a throw-away line.  By definition, we never know what we don’t know.   However, the downstream success of your EHR will be highly dependent on these unknowns.

So, where does your need to be clairvoyant come into play?  One word—flexibility.  Every part of the plan must be built with that requirement in mind.  What will the system need to do in three years?  How will the landscape have changed?

If you aren’t convinced your EHR is either flexible or disposable, you’d benefit by rethinking your plan.  The idea for which I think we need early adopters is to spend time building to what will be, not what is.

EHR: A billion for your thoughts

Every wonder how it is that all the billions in healthcare IT money came about?  I imagine it went something like this.

DC 1: Email those fellows over at HHS and tell them we should just make the doctors install Electronic Health Records (EHR).

DC 2: While we’re at it, how about we pay them a bonus to do it…

DC 1: …and we penalize them if they don’t.  Give them money with one hand and take it back with the other.

DC 2: How do we get EHRs to communicate?

DC 1: Make the states do figure it out.  They are looking for more money.

DC 2: I’ll email the governors and tell them we’ve got more billions to pass around.  Let them build some sort of Information Exchange.  They can set up committees and staff them with appointees.

DC 1: Then we can glue those together in some kind of national network.  Where are we going to get one of those?  Figure another ten billion for that.

DC 2: I’ll email the DOD, they are supposed to know something about building national networks.

DC 1: Just to get things kick-started, let’s email the troops and tell them we’ll sweeten the state pots a little more.  Get them to build these extension centers on a region by region basis.

All these dollars, so little value.  Most of it focused on trying to figure out how to get millions of somethings from point A to point B.

How did all those millions of emails get securely from point A to point B?  For a lot less than forty billion dollars isn’t it possible to figure out  how to get my health information to whomever needs it?  Email me, maybe we can come up with an idea for a network.

If you’re still puzzled, we can play hangman.  It has eight letters, starts with an ‘I’, and ends with ‘ternet’.

AP reports EHR plan will fail-now what?


I just fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. But lest I get ahead of myself, let us begin at the beginning. It started with homework–not mine–theirs. Among the three children of which I had oversight; coloring, spelling, reading, and exponents. How do parents without a math degree help their children with sixth-grade math?

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” Hedley Lamar (Blazing Saddles). Unfortunately, mine, as I was soon to learn was merely flooded. Homework, answering the phone, running baths, drying hair, stories, prayers. The quality of my efforts seemed to be inversely proportional to the number of efforts undertaken. Eight-thirty–all three children tucked into bed.

Eight-thirty-one. The eleven-year-old enters the room complaining about his skinned knee. Without a moment’s hesitation, Super Dad springs into action, returning moments later with a band aid and a tube of salve. Thirty seconds later I was beaming–problem solved. At which point he asked me why I put Orajel on his cut. My wife gave me one of her patented “I told you so” smiles, and from the corner of my eye, I happened to see my last viable neuron scamper across the floor.

One must tread carefully as one toys with the upper limits of the Peter Principle. There seems to be another postulate overlooked in the Principia Mathematica, which states that the number of spectators will grow exponentially as one approaches their limit of ineptitude.

Another frequently missed postulate is that committees are capable of accelerating the time required to reach their individual ineptitude limit. They circumvent the planning process to get quickly to doing, forgetting to ask if what they are doing will work. They then compound the problem by ignoring questions of feasibility, questions for which the committee is even less interested in answering. If we were discussing particle theory we would be describing a cataclysmic chain reaction, the breakdown of all matter. Here we are merely describing the breakdown of a national EHR roll out.

What is your point?  Fair question.  How will we get EHR to work?  I know “Duh” is not considered a term of art in any profession, however, it is exactly the word needed.  It appears they  are deciding that this—“this” being the current plan that will enable point-to-point connection of an individual record—will not work, and 2014 may be in jeopardy—not the actual year, interoperability.  Thanks for riding along with us, now return your seat back and tray table to their upright and most uncomfortable position.

Even as those who are they throw away their membership in the flat earth society, those same they’s continue to press forward in Lemming-lock-step as though nothing is wrong.

It is a failed plan.  It can’t be tweaked.  We can’t simply revisit RHIOs and HIEs.  We have reached the do-over moment, not necessarily at the provider level, although marching along without standards will cause a great deal of rework for healthcare providers.  Having reached that moment, let us do something.  Focusing on certification, ARRA, and meaningful use will prove to be nothing more than a smoke screen.

The functionality of most installed EHRs ends at the front door.  We have been discussing that point for a few months.  When you reach the fork in the road, take it.  Each dollar spent from this moment forth going down the wrong EHR tine will cost two dollars to overcome.  To those providers who are implementing EHR I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you stop and reconsider your approach.