Nurses' union knocks EHRs hard

Launches national campaign to call attention to risks of healthcare IT
By Bernie Monegain
10:41 AM
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An image from the National Nurses United website with the campaign slogan.

National Nurses United, which bills itself as the largest organization of nurses in the country, is in the midst of a campaign to spotlight the potential risks of patient harm spurred by what the group calls, "an unchecked proliferation of unproven medical technology and sharp erosion of care standards."

Founded in 2009, the NNU tallies 185,000 members, with members in every state.

The NNU campaign, announced on May 13, includes radio ads from coast to coast, video, social media, legislation, rallies and a call for public action. Its slogan: "When it matters most, insist on a registered nurse."

In its press statement launching the campaign, the NNU questioned the use of EHRs – and other medical technology.

"Computerized electronic health records systems too often fail, leaving doctors and nurses in the dark without access to medical histories or medical orders," they said. "The Office of the Inspector General for the Health and Human Services Department has reported widespread flaws in the heavily promoted systems. Telemedicine and robotics marketed as improved care deprive patients of individualized care so essential to the therapeutic process central to healing.

"Bedside computers that diagnose and dictate treatment for patients, based on generic population trends not the health status or care needs of that individual patient, increasingly supplant the professional assessment and judgment of experienced nurses and doctors exposing patients to misdiagnosis, mistreatment and life-threatening mistakes."

[See also: Nurses demand delay of EHR rollout and Go-live gone wrong.]

"Hospitals and other healthcare industry giants are spending billions of dollars on medical technology sold to the public as the cure for everything from medical errors to cutting costs, but the reality is proving to be far different," the NNU said in a press statement.

[See also: Clinical quality reporting stymies EHRs.]

The NNU also pointed to hospital industry profits as being at a record high – some $64.4 billion in 2012, according to American Hospital Association data. 

Kaiser Permanente, which is the model for many of the industry trends, just reported first-quarter profits of $1.1 billion, up nearly 44 percent from a year ago, the NNU stated.

A NNU radio ads notes that many of those hospitals are spending their profits and patients' healthcare dollars "on everything but quality patient care" – on technology, Wall Street investments, buying up other hospitals, while cutting the staff of bedside registered nurses, “the health professionals most critical to your care and safety."

The NNU also claimed inadequate, unsafe staffing in the nation's hospitals. Just one example of many, the NNU called attention to a report released May 12 in which Washington, DC, nurses cited 215 incidents of severe understaffing, including life-threatening events, in District hospitals over the past 15 months. RNs in DC and several states are pursuing safe staffing legislation.

[See also: 2012 HIMSS Survey: IT staffing shortage key barrier to meeting IT priorities.]

"The American healthcare system already lags behind other industrialized nations in a wide array of essential health barometers from infant mortality to life expectancy. These changing trends in healthcare threaten to make it worse," said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN, in a statement. "Behind every statistic is a patient and their family, who are exposed to unnecessary suffering and risk as a result of the focus on profits rather than what is best for individual patient need."