RNs Say Sutter’s New Electronic System Causing Serious Disruptions to Safe Patient Care at East Bay Hospitals
Introduction of a new electronic medical records system at Sutter corporation East Bay hospitals has produced multiple problems with safe care delivery that has put patients at risk, charged the California Nurses Association today.
Problems with technology are not unique to health care ... [What is unique to healthcare IT is the complete lack of regulation - ed.]
In over 100 reports submitted by RNs at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, nurses cited a variety of serious problems with the new system, known as Epic. The reports are in union forms RNs submit to management documenting assignments they believe to be unsafe.
Patient care concerns included computerized delays in timely administration of medications and contact with physicians, ability to properly monitor patients, and other delays in treatment. Many noted that the excessive amount of time required to interact with the computer system, inputting and accessing data, sharply cuts down on time they can spend with patients with frequent complaints from patients about not seeing their RN. [Note: patients are not given the opportunity for informed consent about the risks, nor opt-out of EHR use in their care - ed.]
In related posts I'd observed such concerns being ignored by hospital management. See header of the aforementioned post.
Now we have this: a major system crash.
Healthcare IT News
Setback for Sutter after $1B EHR crashes
'No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk'SACRAMENTO, CA | August 28, 2013The nearly $1 billion electronic health record system at Sutter Health in Northern California crashed early this week, leaving nurses and clinical staff unable to access any patient information for a full day.
he Epic EHR was down Aug. 23 due to a planned upgrade for eight hours during which nurses and other clinical users could read medication orders and patient histories but had to record new data on paper to then be re-entered into the system later, according to reports from the California Nurses Association, part of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S.
Then, on the morning of Aug. 26 at approximately 8 a.m., the system crashed completely, at which time nurses, physicians and hospital staff had no access to patient information, including what medications patients were taking or required to take and all vital patient history data.
The Epic EHR went dark at several Sutter Health locations, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Eden Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Hospital, Sutter Delta, Sutter Tracy, Sutter Modesto and numerous affiliated clinics.
"This incident is especially worrisome," said Bonnie Castilla, RN, CNA legislative director, in a news release. "No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk. These systems should never be relied upon for protecting patients or assuring the delivery of the safest care." [This is no exaggeration. My mother was nearly killed by such a problem when caused by an EHR defect (link) that I averted at the last minute by happenstance of showing up at the right time, while she recuperating from another EHR-related disaster - ed.]
Worse, clinicians must now serve their Cybernetic Master to perfection, or be whipped (apparently to improve morale):Some RNs also reported that Sutter failed to provide adequate support during the blackout and didn't implement adequate backup planning.
"All information such as medication administration records and patient histories was outdated by two to three days," said Mike Hill, Alta Bates Summit RN, in a news release. "There were no orders that could be seen of any kind through the day so nurses called for what they needed."
Kevin Sweat, an emergency room RN at Eden Medical Center, a Sutter affiliate, also weighed in on the blackout, saying that in his 12 years as an RN he has never seen a system crash like this.
... "We have been on Epic for 5 months now, and we can no longer have incorrect orders, missing information or incorrect or missing charges. Starting on September 1st, errors made in any of the above will result in progressive discipline," according to another hospital memo sent to staff.
In the setting of dire warnings by the nurses of EHR dangers several months back that were likely largely ignored, if any patient was harmed or killed as a result of this latest fiasco, the corporate leadership has literally begged to be sued for negligence, in my view.
However I'm sure a press release soon will claim that "patient care has not been compromised."
Of course this includes now and moving forward, even with informational gaps all over the place.
Aug. 29, 2013 additional thought:
The punishment for not being a 'perfect' user of this EHR is the ultimate "blame the user" (blame the victim?) game, considering the pressures of patient care in hospitals in lean times - partly due to EHR expense! - and EHRs that have not been formally studied for usability and are poorly designed causing "use error" (that is, a poor user experience promotes even careful users to make errors). Cf. definition of bad health IT:
Bad Health IT ("BHIT") is defined as IT that is ill-suited to purpose, hard to use, unreliable, loses data or provides incorrect data, causes cognitive overload, slows rather than facilitates users, lacks appropriate alerts, creates the need for hypervigilance (i.e., towards avoiding IT-related mishaps) that increases stress, is lacking in security, compromises patient privacy or otherwise demonstrates suboptimal design and/or implementation.
The study of usability is getting underway only now via NIST but will likely be done in an industry-friendly way due to health IT politics.
Aug. 29, 2013 addendum
There have been numerous comments over at HisTalk (at http://histalk2.com/2013/08/27/news-82813/) defending the outage as not EPIC's fault. From the point of view of clinicians - and more importantly, patients - it doesn't matter what component of the hospital's entire "EHR" (an anachronistic term used for what is now a complex enterprise clinical resource and clinician command-and-control system) went down.
Aside from all the EPIC issues the nurses have been complaining about (see earlier July 12, 2013 post linked above), the larger problem is that IT malpractice occurred. The term "malpractice" is used in medical mishaps; I see no reason why it does not apply to major outages of mission critical healthcare information technology systems.
IT malpractice in healthcare kills.
These are the types of nurses I'd want caring for me and mine. Letting this kind of snafu go "anechoic" does not promote proper management remedial education on Safety 101 and on health IT risk, two areas of education that management appears to desperately need in hospitals.