Thursday, May 30, 2013

Marin General Hospital's Nurses are Afraid a Defective EMR Implementation Will Harm or Kill Patients .. CEO Cites Defective HHS Paper and Red Herrings As Excuse Why He Knowingly Allows This To Continue

- Posted at the Healthcare Renewal Blog on May 30, 2013 -

The following appeared in the Marin County Independent Journal about an EHR system so bad the nurses at Marin General Hospital were publicly complaining, putting their careers at risk (see my May 17, 2013 post "Marin General Hospital nurses warn that new computer system is causing errors, call for time out"):

National critic of health care information technology says Marin General should heed nurses' advice

The critic is me.   I spoke to the reporter but did not know he would publish:

A nationally known critic of electronic health records has harshly criticized managers at Marin General Hospital for their response to a plea by nurses to hold off on a new computer system to prevent potentially dangerous errors.

"The executives at the hospital should be taking out extra insurance policies because they're setting themselves up for a massive corporate negligence lawsuit," said Dr. Scot Silverstein, an adjunct professor of health care informatics at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Silverstein, who contacted the Independent Journal after reading about the Marin General situation, doesn't dispute the potential of digital records; but he believes implementation has been rushed. He thinks electronic health records should be regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, much like medical hardware or pharmaceuticals.

Or regulated by someone with experience in similar mission critical software, and with regulatory teeth.  Paper tigers and bad health IT are a very poor mix where patients' rights are concerned IMO.

At issue is a new computerized physician order entry system, known as CPOE; doctors place medication orders for patients directly into the system.

At a meeting of the Marin Healthcare District board on May 14, a group of Marin General nurses told the board problems with the new computer system were diverting them from their patients and causing errors, such as sending orders to the wrong patients. One nurse reported that a patient had received a medication to which he was allergic.

That is a very direct calling out of the potential for harm and death by front line clinical personnel.  To ignore it is grossly if not criminally negligent.

Lee Domanico, who serves as the CEO of both Marin General and the Marin Healthcare District, assured the board that the hospital was safe, despite "glitches" in the new system. Domanico said he was working to fix the problem.

Glitches = safe?  The Board must be highly gullible if they believe this  See for more on "safe" glitches.

Silverstein said, "Glitches are a euphemism for life-threatening electronic health record malfunctions and defects."

"What they need to do is exactly what the nurses are asking for," Silverstein said. "They need to turn the system off and put it through rigorous testing and confirm the thing is going to work properly with no glitches before they use it on patients."

That's not rocket science - its common sense - unless they think their own nurses are lying.

Of course, as computers have more rights than patients, and bonuses might be affected, the system will likely continue in full operation, with patients as guinea pigs, and the nurses punished for informing the public that perhaps they should consider other hospitals while the "glitches" in this enterprise clinician command-and-control system are worked out.

Two days after the Marin Healthcare District meeting, Domanico issued a press release stating, "We have not received any medication error incident reports resulting from the implementation of computerized physician order entry."

On Friday, however, Barbara Ryan, a Marin General registered nurse who serves as the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United representative, said, "I can't understand why that statement was made."

Ryan said nurses have told her of errors, and information about errors appears in "Assignment Despite Objection" forms that nurses have filed since implementation of the computerized order system began on May 7. Nurses file the forms to document formal objections to an unsafe, or potentially unsafe, patient care assignment.

The statement's reason and purpose seems fairly obvious. 

Ryan said Marin General nurses have filed close to 50 such forms so far this month; she said typically 10 to 20 such forms are filed per month at the hospital.

"There are still problems with the system," she said. "There are still mistakes being made." Ryan said the hospital needs to boost nurse staffing ratios during the implementation.

That would increase costs (and probably decrease the pool of money for bonuses).

Jon Friedenberg, Marin General's chief fund and business development officer, said the hospital is in the process of upgrading computer servers and adding memory to work stations to increase the speed of the new computerized order system.

"We completed an upgrade of memory to 200 of the work stations, and 120 of the work stations have been replaced," Friedenberg said.

This reminds me of a similar IT fiasco I faced some years ago, when the brilliance of IT personnel really shone through regarding an ICU monitoring system that crashed regularly.  Their solution?  Add more RAM.  (See "Serious clinical computing problems in the worst of places: an ICU" at

... Silverstein earned a medical degree from Boston University and subsequently completed a two-year fellowship in medical informatics at Yale University School of Medicine. He served as Merck Research Laboratories' director of scientific information in the early 2000s before serving for a time as a full-time professor at Drexel University. Today, in addition to teaching part-time, Silverstein works on [EHR-related - ed.] medical liability cases for plaintiff attorneys. [And the defense too, when asked; I'd rather advise on how to prevent mistakes, in fact, than get involved after the fact when someone's been injured or killed - ed.]

What was not mentioned was that I was a CMIO in a major hospital in the mid to late 1990s.

But of course, I - and similarly trained Medical Informatics experts - "don't have enough experience" to lead (as opposed to being an 'internal consultant') health IT projects, a refrain I've often heard from hospital executives.

Silverstein said he started assisting on the liability cases after his mother died as the result of an electronic health care record error that resulted in her not being given the proper heart medicine. Silverstein said his mother's case was not an anomaly.
For example, he pointed to the results of a recent Emergency Care Research Institute study of 36 hospitals conducted over a nine-week period. Asked to report electronic record problems on a volunteer basis, Silverstein said the hospitals reported 170 malfunctions, including eight incidents that resulted in patient harm, three of which may have contributed to patients' deaths.  Although the federal Food and Drug Administration does not regulate health care information technology, some manufacturers have voluntarily supplied data to the FDA. In February 2010, the FDA reported it had been notified of 260 problem events involving health care information technology in the previous two years that were linked with 44 injuries and six deaths.

See my Feb. 28, 2013 post "Peering Underneath the Iceberg's Water Level: AMNews on the New ECRI Deep Dive Study of Health IT Events" at  Also see my Aug. 5, 2010 post "Internal FDA memorandum of Feb. 23, 2010 to Jeffrey Shuren on HIT risks. Smoking gun? I report, you decide" at I merely report what ECRI, AMA and FDA have reported.


In his press release, however, [CEO] Domanico stated that "more than 150 studies conducted since 2007 have confirmed that organizations using health information technology, like CPOE, have seen positive outcomes."

I believe he's referring to a highly biased and scientifically defective ONC paper of 154 selected studies: "The Benefits Of Health Information Technology: A Review Of The Recent Literature Shows Predominantly Positive Results."

What an unbelievably cavalier attitude.

My colleagues and I refuted (dare I say trashed) that paper pretty thoroughly here:

Even worse, the mention of that paper, or EHR benefits in general, is a diversion, an in-your-face red herring (at best; an inability to reason logically at worst), steering away from the real issue:  an EHR implementation about which nurses are complaining ... in the now.  A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue.

That a CEO of a major hospital relies on one defective paper - one that he most likely lacks the experience and expertise to understand, let alone critically evaluate - and red herrings is a poster example of why medical and medical informatics amateurs should not be running hospitals or clinical IT projects.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that a forensic investigation is indicated, which should include the flow of funds between vendor, hospital, and its CEO and IT leaders in addition to the flaws and defects in care from the EHR and CPOE systems.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a large Midwest hospital that was gung-ho about CPOE/EHR stuff, issues be damned. I wish I could have discovered how much kickbacks were given, because it had to have been a lot.

Anonymous said...

Announcement of a class-action lawsuit against Allscripts, “MyWay” software may encourage additional litigation as doctors and hospitals become aware they’ve been misled about functional capability and failure to meet regulatory requirements by their pricey new software.

This suit is particularly devastating since Allscripts “MyWay” was chosen as “The Foundation of NC PATH”, the NC Program to Advance Technology for Health and the NC Health Information Exchange and incentivized by BCBS NC to small/medium practices. The plan to facilitate collaboration across medical communities is an unaffordable, unrealistic dream without years of intense IT development and megabucks.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reports over $75 million in revenue losses during implementation of EPIC EHR software. Two consulting firms have been hired while 950 jobs were eliminated. Wage and hour cuts, voluntary furloughs, elimination of incentive bonuses and retirement funding are also part of the effort to withstand the financial storm. Baptist is listed by AARP as one of the nations “Safest Hospitals”. How this will impact patient care is totally predictable.

Cone Health reports $ 20 million in revenue losses, also during an EPIC implementation and Novant Health plans to enrich the EPIC coffers with another $600 million, even as U.K. and U.S. bloggers call EPIC, The Golden Child among electronic medical record systems “Cream of the Crap”.

Auditor, Beth Wood revealed the new $ 484 million NC Tracks Medicaid software failed 123 test cases and there is no guarantee that it will work as intended for the go-live on July 1st, even though costs soared an additional $200 million over budget.


InformaticsMD said...

Perhaps hospital execs and boards may think they are invulnerable.

-- SS

Anonymous said...

Keep going Scot. Keep reporting and repeating! HCPs are starting to have nerve to come forward and journalists are starting to understand the magnitude of this mess.

And anonymous 8:06 am hit it on the head.

InformaticsMD said...

HCPs are starting to have nerve to come forward

The reader comments at Julie Creswell's NYT article "A Digital Shift on Health Data Swells Profits in an Industry" says it all.

The health IT industry is being outed.

-- SS

Steve Lucas said...

While this post is written by a competitor of Epic I find the numbers interesting, and even if partially wrong indicates the financial incentives, and financial down side, for both vendor and consumer:

Steve Lucas