EDITOR'S CORNER: Quaid draws attention to health IT, but do people really care?

I've been thinking for some time now that in our celebrity-driven culture, it would take a big Hollywood name to latch on to health IT in order to get the masses--and the mainstream media--to make the connection between information technology and patient safety. A few candidates had been involuntarily brought to the fore with regards to EMR security breaches--Britney Spears, George Clooney and the dearly departed Farrah Fawcett come to mind--but I've been waiting for Dennis Quaid to make a splash.

Quaid, you will recall, is the father of twins who were nearly killed by a serious medication error shortly after their birth in March 2007. He delivered a keynote address at HIMSS09 back in April, in which he spoke in favor of computerized physician order entry, bar-coded medication administration and, above all, interoperable electronic medical records. HIMSS presented the actor with a $10,000 check for the Quaid Foundation, which, at the time, had a raison d'être, but not much of a plan.

That changed last week. At a semi-annual meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in Las Vegas, Quaid threw his support behind ASHP's new National Alert Network for Serious Medication Errors and an effort called the Pharmacy Technician Initiative. The former is a system of alerts triggered when a harmful or potentially harmful error occurs that warns others that a serious mistake has occurred and offers tips on preventing a repeat of the error. The latter program advocates for a pharmacy technician training program as a prerequisite for state board registration.

Those details are rather technical, and would make the average person outside of the healthcare industry yawn. But a Google search this morning on "National Alert Network for Serious Medication Errors" turned up 22,000 results, thanks mostly to Quaid's involvement. Who picked up the story? The regular healthcare press and a wire service or two had coverage, sure, but so did Hollywood gossip Perez Hilton. British site Contactmusic.com had a piece, too, as did a Romanian film site called CinemaRx.ro. So yeah, the story is getting out there.

I wonder, though, if people really understand the problem, and the importance of health IT in preventing such errors. Yes, anyone can relate to a human-interest story about a father nearly losing his twin babies to a mistake by a hospital. But, judging by some of the comments on Perez Hilton's site, a large number of people would rather bicker over whether Quaid has bad teeth or whether his brother, Randy Quaid, deserves his own personal financial bailout. That's sad, and it shows what kind of an uphill battle people in healthcare are fighting when it comes to public awareness.