Grassley probes 10 health IT companies about software

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Ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has sent a letter to 10 health IT companies requesting consumer complaint information about their health IT products.

The Oct. 16 letter was sent to 3M, Allscripts, Cerner, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Computer Sciences, Eclipsys, Epic Systems, McKesson, Perot Systems and Philips Healthcare and asked them for infomation about complaints received from Jan. 1, 2007 to Oct. 16, 2009.

Grassley is seeking information to conduct an oversight investigation of  the manufacturers of health IT and computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems. In the letter, Grassley said he has received complaints from numerous health industry parties “regarding difficulties they have encountered with the health IT and CPOE devices in their medical facilities.” These complaints, he noted, have included “faulty software…that resulted in incorrect medication dosages.”

The senator pointed out that $19 billion have been earmarked for the development and implementation of these systems, and went on to state that he has "a special responsibility to protect the health of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and safeguard taxpayer dollars.”

“It is appropriate,” Grassley said, “that [taxpayers'] monies are appropriately spent on effective and interoperable health IT systems and devices.”

He also is requesting companies' information on settlements relating to health IT/CPOE devices and products in the last 18 months, and whether or not they offer financial incentives to healthcare providers for purchasing their products is also being requested.

Grassley revealed in the letter that it "has been reported that IT/CPOE contracts with medical facilities may include 'hold harmless' provisions that absolve manufactureres...of any liability for errors that are allegedly [health] IT/CPOE system or software failtures."

"Gag orders" may be included in these contracts, Grassley wrote, which might prohibit healthcare providers from disclosing flaws and defects in the software.

In addition to the earmarked funds and consumer complaints as reasons for the oversight process, Grassley stated that “there is no system in place to track, monitor and report the performance of these systems/devices, which could impact a healthcare provider’s ability to make informed decisions regarding the implementation of an IT/CPOE system.”

Grassley asked for appropriate responses to be submitted no later than Nov. 6.