This year's stimulus package includes $20 billion to encourage hospitals to make "meaningful use" of health information technology. According to Phillip Longman, vendors of proprietary health information technology are lobbying to define "meaningful use" to favor their products over open-source software like VistA (the software that has helped make the VA the best care in America). Longman says the vendors are also marketing like crazy to cash in on the stimulus money and lock hospitals into their software.
In effect, the health IT stimulus may be acting as "a giant taxpayer bailout of health IT companies whose business model has never really worked" [Longman, 2009].
Senator Thune should push Congress to do what Longman recommends:
Rather than shoveling $20 billion into software that doesn’t deliver on the promise of digital medicine, the government should put a hold on that money pending the results of a federal interagency study that will be looking into the potential of open-source health IT and will deliver its findings by October 2010.
Senator Thune has said he is committed to lowering health care costs for all Americans. Blocking expenditures on inferior proprietary health IT and opening the door for more implementation of open-source medical software will save hospitals, patients, and taxpayers billions of dollars. The VA's open-source software has demonstrated its ability to improve health outcomes, win acceptance from practitioners, cut implementation costs by 90%, and hold down the cost of delivering care (adjusting for inflation, VistA cut costs per patient 32% over a decade when those costs rose nationwide by 50%). VistA is also freely available to every hospital in the world that wants to use it.
Senator Thune, don't let profit-motivated lobbyists manipulate the law and federal dollars to crowd out the most effective health IT solution on the table. Put that stimulus money on hold. Let the open-source study do its work and guide us to the health IT solution that will save lives and save money.
- Senator Thune (and the rest of us!) can learn more about why proprietary health IT has failed from Fred Trotter's April 28, 2009, testimony to the National Committee on Vital Health and Statistics.
- Senator Thune may also want to give the VA a shout and tell them not to risk ruining VistA by squashing local innovation and centralizing development.
- Update! Doug Wiken reminds me that he wrote about VistA and wondered last April why Avera and Sanford here in South Dakota would spend so much money trying to develop their own system when they could adopt VistA for a fraction of the cost.