A popular, veteran doctor from central Illinois has been sidelined by employer (Springfield-based) Memorial Health System because he has not become proficient with the electronic medical records system that they purchased and implemented. Patients are so incensed that they’ve started a Facebook page as well as a blog to rally to his defense. This situation brings into focus the problem of top-down medical solutions, calling into question the efficacy of healthcare by committee, not to mention Obamacare itself. Do we really want to sacrifice good doctors in favor of good followers of top-down rules? Do we want good computer operators or excellent doctors?
The doctor, Steven Kottemann, 63, was placed on paid administrative leave in September because he was allegedly not properly utilizing the new electronic medical records system that his employer, Family Medical Center, instituted. Kotteman initially tried to upload verbal recordings of his notes made when meeting with patients, but the system failed to accept the recordings. The only other option was to type in by hand all his patient notes. Kottemann tried to input the notes while actually with his patients but eventually came to feel that typing at a computer while trying to work with his patients was not conducive to good care.
Dr. Kottemann then began staying late after office hours to type in all the notes, but due to a stroke of his own, the effort became too much for him. “It got to the point where I was going in seven days a week to keep up,” Kottemann told the State-Register newspaper. For its part, the employer says that Kottemann’s lack of proficiency with the computer system was not the only reason they fired him, but Memorial Medical Center refused to comment further on this story when I contacted them.
Kottemann’s patients, though, are not as reluctant to comment. His patients have become incensed that their favorite doctor has been fired merely because he doesn’t meet administrators’ expectations for computer savvy. They started a blog to come to his aid. On the blog, one patient praised Dr. Kottemann saying, “I don’t need a 15 min Dr, or a computer whiz… I need a doctor that cares about me and my family. I have that in Dr. Kottemann.” There are other equally laudatory entries.
Kottemann is now afraid to say much about this incident because lawyers are involved, so he demurred from offering a comment for this story. The upshot of this whole thing is that good care seems to be sacrificed to push electronic medical records systems. This is happening across the country, too. We have hospital administrators driving hard to implement Obama’s medical records solution, such as the one called EPIC Systems being pushed by his medical records czar, Judith Faulkner. In so doing, they are acing out excellent doctors whose only deficit is that they are not proficient with the new records technology. Are we really willing to stand by as Obama’s representatives bully those good doctors that criticize these electronic medical records systems? Are we willing to sacrifice good doctors for merely competent computer jockeys?