Sunday, September 30, 2012

UK: Another Example of IT Malpractice With Bad Health IT (BHIT) Affecting Thousands of Patients, But, As Always, Patient Care Was "Not Compromised"

At my Dec. 2011 post "IT Malpractice? Yet Another "Glitch" Affecting Thousands of Patients. Of Course, As Always, Patient Care Was "Not Compromised" and others, I noted:

... claims [in stories regarding health IT failure] that "no patients were harmed" ... are both misleading and irrelevant:

Such claims of 'massive EHR outage benevolence' are misleading, in that medical errors due to electronic outages might not appear for days or weeks after the outage ... Claims of 'massive EHR outage benevolence' are also irrelevant in that, even if there was no catastrophe directly coincident with the outage, their was greatly elevated risk. Sooner or later, such outages will maim and kill.

Here is a prime example of why I've opined at my Sept. 2012 post "Good Health IT (GHIT) v. Bad Health IT (BHIT): Paper is Better Than The Latter" that a good or even average paper-based medical record keeping system can facilitate safer and better provision of care than a system based on bad health IT (BHIT).

Try this with paper:

NHS 'cover-up' over lost cancer patient records

Thousands awaiting treatment were kept in the dark for five months when data disappeared

Sanchez Manning
The Independent
Sunday 30 September 2012

Britain's largest NHS trust took five months to tell patients it had mislaid medical records for thousands of people waiting for cancer tests and other urgent treatments. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust discovered in January that a serious computer problem and staff mistakes had played havoc with patient waiting lists.

It's quite likely the "serious computer problem" far outweighed the impact of "staff mistakes", as disappearing computer data does so in a "silent" manner.  One does not realize it's missing as there's not generally a trail of evidence that it's gone.

About 2,500 patients were forced to wait longer on the waiting lists than the NHS's targets, and the trust had no idea whether another 3,000 suspected cancer patients on the waiting list had been given potentially life-saving tests. Despite the fact that the trust discovered discrepancies in January and was forced to launch an internal review into the mess, including 74 cases where patients died, it did not tell GPs about the lost records until May.

That is, quite frankly, outrageous if true and (at least in the U.S.) might be considered criminally negligent (failure to use reasonable care to avoid consequences that threaten or harm the safety of the public and that are the foreseeable outcome of acting in a particular manner).

Revelations about the delay prompted a furious response yesterday from GPs, local authorities and patients' groups. Dr Tony Grewal, one of the GPs who had made referrals to Imperial, said doctors should have been told sooner to allow them to trace patients whose records were missing. "The trust should have contacted us as soon as it was recognised that patients with potentially serious illnesses had been failed by a system," he said. "GPs hold the ultimate responsibility for their patient care."

That is axiomatic.

The chief executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, added: "This is unacceptable for any patient who has had any investigation, but especially patients awaiting cancer results, where every day counts. The trust has a duty to contact GPs who referred the patients. It's unfair on the patients to have this stress and worry, and the trust should not have tried to hide the fact that they had lost these records. They should have let the GPs know at the outset."

Unfair to the patients is an understatement,  However, if one's attitude is that computers have more rights than patients, as many on the health IT sector seem to with their ignoring of patient rights such as informed consent, lack of safety regulation, and lack of accountability, then it's quite acceptable.

The trust defended the delay in alerting GPs, arguing that it needed to check accurately how much data it had lost before making the matter public. It said a clinical review had now concluded that no one died as a result of patients waiting longer for tests or care.

That would be perhaps OK if the subjects whose "data had been lost" through IT malpractice were lab rats.

Despite this, three London councils – Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham – are deeply critical of the way the trust handled the data loss. Sarah Richardson, a Westminster councillor who heads the council's health scrutiny committee, said that trust bosses had attempted to "cover up" the extent of the debacle. "Yes, they've done what they can but, in doing so, [they] put the reputation of the trust first," she said. "Rather than share it with the GPs, patients and us, they thought how can we manage this information internally. They chose to consider their reputation over patient care."

As at my Oct. 2011 post "Cybernetik Über Alles: Computers Have More Rights Than Patients?", to be more specific, they may have put the reputation of the Trust's computers first. 

Last week, it was revealed that Imperial has been fined £1m by NHS North West London for the failures that led to patient data going missing. On Wednesday, an external review into the lost records said a "serious management failure" was to blame for the blunder.

Management of what, one might ask?

Imperial's chief financial officer, Bill Shields, admitted at a meeting with the councils that the letter could have been produced more quickly. He said that, at the time, the trust had operated with "antiquated computer systems" and had a "light-touch regime" on elective waiting times.

Version 2.0A will, as again is a typical refrain, fix all the problems.

Terry Hanafin, the leading management consultant who wrote the report, said the data problems went back to 2008 and had built up over almost four years until mid-2011. Mr Hanafin said the priorities of senior managers at that time were the casualty department and finance.

Clinical computing is not business computing, I state for the thousandth time.  When medical data is discovered "lost", the only response should be ... find it, or inform patients and clinicians - immediately.

He further concluded that while the delays in care turned out to be non-life threatening, they had the potential to cause pain, distress and, in the case of cancer patients, "more serious consequences" ... The trust said it had found no evidence of clinical harm and stressed that new systems have now been implemented to record patient data. It denied trying to cover up its mistakes or put its reputation before concerns for patients. "Patient safety is always our top priority," said a spokesman.

"More serious consequences" is a euphemism for horrible metastatic cancer and death, I might add.  The leaders simply cannot claim they "found no evidence of clinical harm" regarding delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment until time has passed, and followup studies performed on this group of patients.

This refrain is evidence these folks are either lying, CYA-style, or have no understanding of clinical medicine whatsoever - in which case their responsibilities over the clinic need to be ended in my opinion.

I, for one, would like to know the exact nature of the "computer problem", who was responsible, and if it was a software bug, how such software was validated and how it got into production.

-- SS

Oct. 1, 2012 Addendum:

What was behind the problems, according to another source?   

Bad Health IT (BHIT):

Poor IT behind Imperial cancer problems
e-Health Insider
28 September 2012
Rebecca Todd

An independent review of data quality issues affecting cancer patient referrals to Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has identified “poor computer systems” as a key cause of the problem.

The review’s report highlights the trust’s use of up to 17 different IT systems as causing problems for patient tracking.

However, it says the trust should be aware of the risks of [replacing the BHIT and] moving to a single system, Cerner Millennium, because of reported problems in providing performance data after similar moves at other London trusts.

In January 2012, the report says the NHS Intensive Support Team was reviewing the way reports on cancer waiting times were created from Imperial’s cancer IT system, Excelicare.

The team discovered that almost 3,000 patients were still on open pathways who should have been seen within two weeks. In May, letters were sent to GPs to try and ascertain the clinical status of around 1,000 patients.

BHIT must be forbidden from real-world deployments, and fixed rapidly or dismantled (as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust appears to be doing), although the "solution" might be just as bad, or worse, than the disease.

-- SS


Steve Lucas said...

My wife and I collect ink pens. We also have somehow managed to acquire four manual typewriters. This has gotten me thinking of the time spent in a college class discussing the difference between a letter, memo, and note, typed or handwritten.

I remember a wonderful comment written some time ago by a doctor lamenting an EMR and how he enjoyed reading the handwritten notes of past times. The doctor noted you had a feel for the patient and the thought process of the doctor not found with a checked box or boilerplate.

My wife and I were able to retire early and this has brought all types of volunteer work. We have put those manual typewriters to work doing one off mailing labels and typing those two line notes. At the same time we have fought those who want everything done on a computer no matter what the added time.

Then I come to this link is from the Sunday September 30, 2012 Toronto Sun electronic edition:

Listed as a driver in Ontario’s medical cost is the billions wasted on an EMR system called eHealth.

Technology is a wonderful tool, but it is only a tool. In aviation we have all type of backup systems ultimately relying on the Mark 1 eyeball and a finger on the map. Medicine has lost this desire to have a reliable backup system in a rush to justify a new tool. Sadly the results when the system crashes are the loss of lives, much like aviation.

Steve Lucas

Whats with this said...

TIme to find Phil Green. What ever happened to that guy??

InformaticsMD said...


thanks for that link.

I am turning its story into a blog post.

-- SS