Sunday, April 19, 2009

$96m Medical IT System Down Under is Useless: Whistleblowers

The U.S. is about to embark on spending more money the the annual budget of NASA on health IT. If the experiences in other countries are an indication, I am afraid we will see more "Apollo 1's" than "Apollo 11's."

Here's a situation being experienced Down Under (I'd posted an insiders's view on the HIT situation there in late 2007 at this link):

Nick Miller
April 17, 2009

$96m medical IT system useless: whistleblowers

A NEW $96 million computer system for Victorian hospitals that promised to cut down on dangerous medication errors will be almost useless when it goes "live" this year, insiders say.

Other new computer systems that handle finance and manage patient records are plagued with serious problems that take days, even weeks, to fix.

And in a further embarrassment for the years-overdue $360 million HealthSMART program, a hospital chosen by the Government to be a flagship "lead agency" — Ballarat Health System — has quit the project because it could not justify the expense.

An anonymous letter from "health-sector employees" sent to The Age says the Cerner clinical systems, intended to cut down on mistakes in doses or combinations of medicines, is being rushed into hospitals — with none of the medication functions working — so the Government will not be embarrassed before next year's election.

"The whole reason for this system was to introduce electronic medication," the letter says. "But next year is an election year and we must hit the agreed dates. This means the system will be almost useless when first live."

Documents released to The Age by the Department of Human Services under freedom of information, and the department's own website, confirm that when clinical systems go live at the first two hospitals late this year, they will not include its most significant functions.

These include ordering pathology tests or medical scans, medication management for emergency patients or inpatients, and "decision support" functions that cross-check drugs and doses.

Leaked reports show other new HealthSmart systems are highly unreliable.

In the last quarter of 2008, the reports showed serious problems with the "PCMS" system, which tracks patient records, books operating theatres and warns doctors of a patient's particular allergies or chronic health problems.

As of December, the system was used at five health services, including Northern, Frankston and Royal Women's hospitals.

Hospitals also reported major problems with the FMIS financial software that runs budgets, purchases, accounts and assets at seven hospitals, including Box Hill, Northern, Frankston, Monash and Peter Mac.

Ten hospitals were targeted for the Cerner clinical system, with Eastern Health, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and Ballarat Health Service as "lead agencies". The Age's FoI documents say Ballarat is "unlikely to proceed given costs included in business-case".

One hospital CEO told The Age he "will be very surprised if it stacks up", as the system cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to run each year.

Another senior Victorian health IT expert said most hospitals would never take up the software. "No one likes using it because it's s---," he said. "It's totally inflexible." [I guess I don't need to spell out the expletive - ed.]

A Health Department spokesman denied all the allegations, without giving any detail.

A spokesman for acting Health Minister Lisa Neville denied that hospitals were being pressured over HealthSMART to avoid embarrassment before the election.

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said it was vital that Victoria's hospitals got a modern IT system, but the Government was failing to deliver one. "It's a massive cost to health services, and it seems the timing is being driven by the next election rather than the best clinical care," she said.

I can add little by way of commentary to this article. It speaks for itself and bodes poorly for our new Apollo project-in-postmodern-times challenge of "Reaching the Moon by Hot Air Balloon."

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The UK spent millions on a dysfunctional-as-designed Cerner system, now the Aussies? Sounds like 1) Cerner's software bugs, flaws, performance issues and poor design makes Microsoft products seem flawless in comparison, and 2) they have a hell of a sales force. Go figure.