Does the Stockholm Syndrome Apply to EMRs?

Posted on November 8, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Paul Levy wrote an interesting post comparing Stockholm Syndrome to EMR software. For those who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a description of Stockholm Syndrome:

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Paul Levy makes the case for EMRs being similar to the Stockholm Syndrome based on Epic’s decisions to not integrate with other medical record systems and some of the controlling tactics that Epic uses with its customers. They are interesting and it’s amazing what a hospital CIO will put up with from an EMR company like Epic.

I’d take this idea one step further. I’ve recently heard a number of people ask the question, “Is Epic really that good or is it just the best of the worst?” Doesn’t this sound a lot like the Stockholm Syndrome? Basically defending something that really isn’t all that great, just because it was better that the bad treatment they got from other EMR vendors before.

Paul Levy describes the myth that he thinks is why we are where we are today:

It is a widely accepted myth that medicine requires complex, highly specialized information-technology (IT) systems. This myth continues to justify soaring IT costs, burdensome physician workloads, and stagnation in innovation — while doctors become increasingly bound to documentation and communication products that are functionally decades behind those they use in their “civilian” life.

We believe that EHR vendors propagate the myth that health IT is qualitatively different from industrial and consumer products in order to protect their prices and market share and block new entrants. In reality, diverse functionality needn’t reside within single EHR systems, and there’s a clear path toward better, safer, cheaper, and nimbler tools for managing health care’s complex tasks.

The two killer points for me are the “stagnation in innovation” and the “functionally decades behind” comments. Those who argue against these things usually use a few specific cases of advancement and innovation as opposed to the industry as a whole.

I’d suggest that one of the biggest impediments to innovation is the barriers to entry for a startup company. How many hospitals do you know that would buy software from a startup company? It’s pretty rare. Yet, this is where the very best innovation comes from in other industries.

I still think that there will be opportunities for some startup companies to come along and disrupt the current EHR providers. Epic did it to Meditech in many ways, and I’m sure we’ll see another come along and do the same. However, I think the number of people that can do this is limited to a very small group of people thanks to the way healthcare is organized and done in hospitals. This lack of access leads to a lack of innovation.