An article in the September 11, 2015 issue of Politico found that almost all the major EHR vendors contained gag clauses that prevented physicians and hospitals from discussing safety concerns and failings of their EHRs.  Many of the implemenations of EHRs and “meaningful use” have been rumored to be technological disasters.

But don’t expect to hear about the problems from doctors or hospitals. Most of them are under gag orders not to discuss the specific failings of their systems — even though poor technology in hospitals can have lethal consequences. A POLITICO investigation found that some of the biggest firms marketing electronic record systems inserted “gag clauses” in their taxpayer-subsidized contracts, effectively forbidding health care providers from talking about glitches that slow their work and potentially jeopardize patients.POLITICO obtained 11 contracts through public record requests from hospitals and health systems in New York City, California, and Florida that use six of the biggest vendors of digital record systems. With one exception, each of the contracts contains a clause protecting potentially large swaths of information from public exposure.  This is the first time the existence of the gag clauses has been conclusively documented.Vendors say such restrictions target only breaches of intellectual property and are invoked rarely.

Doctors, researchers and members of Congress contend they stifle important discussions, including disclosures that problems exist. In some cases, they say, the software’s faults can have lethal results, misleading doctors and nurses who rely upon it for critical information in life-or-death situations.

“The insiders tell me it’s the confidentiality and intellectual property clauses [that] are the biggest barriers to reporting adverse events,” said David Classen, chief medical information officer of Pascal Metrics. Classen co-authored a landmark 2011 Institute of Medicine report warning that such contracts were a key reason for the lack of knowledge about health IT-related patient safety risks.

Critics say the clauses – which POLITICO documented in contracts with Epic Systems, Cerner, Siemens (now part of Cerner), Allscripts, eClinicalWorks and Meditech – have kept researchers from understanding the scope of the failures.


Intimidated Researchers

Anxiety about crossing a vendor’s line afflicts many doctors and researchers. In March, Sittig published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association comparing eight digital systems’ graphing functions – how they plot clinical lab information.
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Source: Doctors barred from discussing safety glitches in U.S.-funded software – POLITICO