Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike will recognize the expression “resistance is futile” as a favored saying among the drones of the Borg collective of Star Trek fame. Obviously I’m paraphrasing with the title of this essay, but let’s ask ourselves a question: Is it a big deal that the Department of Health and Human Services still does not have an agreed-upon standard for electronic health record (EHR) interoperability?
HHS has been yakking about this since 2005, when Mike Leavitt ran the department. Now we have Kathleen Sebelius and still no standard for EHR interoperability. Seven years and a few agreed-upon components, but no complete standard. Just for a little perspective, let’s look at some things that have been accomplished in seven years or less.
On September 12, 1962, President Jack Kennedy delivered his go-to-the-moon speech. On July 20, 1969, the recently departed Neil Armstrong delivered the first human footprint on the lunar surface along with the famous remark about a giant leap for mankind. Elapsed time? Just a bit less than seven years. And it was a government job.
China’s Great Leap Forward was an attempt to industrialize agriculture and resulted in the forced starvation of as many as 45 million people. Chairman Mao Zedong undertook a process he knew from the history of Russia would cost millions of lives. How long did it take? A mere three years were required to force 45 million people to starve to death. This, too, was a government job.
Construction began on the newest holder of the title of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in September 2004 and the building opened for business in January 2010. The cost of the building has been estimated at $1.5 billion, which is a lot less than the U.S. government has plowed into EHR bribes to doctors and hospitals. Elapsed time? Six years.
On the other hand, let’s acknowledge one advantage the builder of Burj Khalifa had over government. Construction workers – most of who probably held no better than a high school diploma – did the building whereas bureaucrats with MDs and PhDs are tasked with doing EHR interoperability. Maybe it’s not a fair comparison.
So there you go. After seven years and tens of billions of dollars, Washington is still playing games with interoperability standards after more time than it took to put a man on the moon or build the world’s tallest building, and more than twice the time it took to starve tens of millions of citizens of China to death. Bravo, HHS, bravo.
Now for HHS’s next act of persistent futility: ICD-10.