Political rhetoric gives Medsphere an opening

It seemed at first like a standard bit of political rhetoric from Epic CEO Judy Faulkner, at a policy committee meeting on the meaningful use standards.

“I am nervous that the government is going to get into the EHR design business,” she said.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, unless you know that the government has been in that business for 30 years, with the VA’s VistA system.

Medsphere COO Rick Jung (right) went ballistic. The company had long fought a rear-guard action against VistA being replaced by some proprietary system, a war it thought was won with the approving noises coming from the Obama Administration, and here was Faulkner undermining that effort, from within the government.

It’s not the only non-obvious howler Faulkner had uttered during the creation of the guidelines which are now in effect. In May, she said usability would be part of the standards over her dead body. Scott Silverstein of Health Care Renewal blew his top.

This is, in fact, pretty ordinary behavior for a CEO. Trying to use government to prevent competition, and to limit costly requirements for your firm, is a time-honored Washington tradition.

Faulkner bet her company building an integrated EHR system for Kaiser, and nearly lost the game. Success meant a grand new $300 million complex outside Madison, Wisconsin. It’s no surprise she wants to capitalize on that success, with minimal investment, and that sweet, sweet stimulus cash.

The problem is that what she’s saying here is dangerous and wrong. Of course we need usability, although that’s a moving target. And of course an open source development process, with the government as a partner, is going to result in better, less expensive software.

It’s fine to have stakeholders advising the government, understanding that they come to the work with biases and self-interest. The hope is that these biases balance one another out and the regulatory system is not “captured” by those it was designed to control.

But the opposite is so politically appealing.

Click on Political Rhetoric to access Dana Blankenhorn's original blog post.