Initial reports that a Dallas hospital's electronic medical record system failed to flag a man who turned out to be infected with the Ebola virus underscores how clunky, outdated and inefficient health information systems typically are in the U.S., a medical IT CEO charged Friday.
"The worst supply chain in our society is the health information supply chain," said Jonathan Bush, head of Athenahealth. "It's just a wonderfully poignant example, reminder of how disconnected our health-care system is."
"It's just a very Stone-Age sector, because it's very conservative," Bush said. "Hospital health care is still in the era of pre-Internet software."
The infected man, Thomas Eric Duncan, first went to the hospital Sept. 25 with flu-like symptoms but was released that same day. Just days later, he returned to the hospital, where he eventually tested positive for the Ebola virus.
On Thursday, the hospital released a statement that essentially pointed a finger at a flaw in its electronic records system, but the hospital has since recanted that statement, saying "the patient's travel history was documented and available to the full care team in the electronic health record (EHR), including within the physician's workflow."
Even so, medical IT experts say many hospital systems need to be improved.
In an interview with CNBC conducted prior to the hospital's reversal, Bush cautioned that he is not blaming either Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, nor its electronic health software vendor Epic Systems, for the breakdown in communication.
Instead, he said, there is a problem among U.S. medical providers overall of relying on electronic health record systems that tend to be customized for individual providers, and not networked together nationally so that they can be updated in response to situations like the current Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa.
"The hyperbole should not be directed at Epic or those guys at Health Texas," Bush said. "The hyperbole has to be directed at the fact that health care is islands of information trying to separately manage a massively complex network."