Today is Mother's Day.
It's almost one year to the day when my mother suffered severe and now clearly irrecoverable cardiac and brain injuries due to an EMR-related catastrophic blunder in the ED of a large hospital.
She spent the entire night last night in an agitated delirium, which is occurring more often now, with me, her son, tending to her needs. Not even strong sedatives helped much. It is only now, this morning at 9:30 AM, that she has finally drifted off to sleep, giving me the time to write this.
To the (ir)responsible people at the hospital, I offer my sincerest ingratitude for what you did to my mother through stupidity. Ignoring my confidential April 2010 warning letter to the CEO and CMO about my observations of your organization's EHR deficiencies did not ingratiate me to your organizational culture, either.
Yet I hope your mothers are healthy and responsive to your gifts and appreciation on this day. I honestly do.
I would not wish what my mother went through (cerebellar hemorrhage) on anyone.
Here's a sampling of how such errors occur due to the toxicity of EHR's:
My mother was placed on a medication, Sotalol Hydrochloride, by this hospital's cardiologists in appx. 2001 to prevent atrial fibrillation.
An ED visit of April 2010 shows Sotalol as a "current medication" (as did multiple ED and inpatient charts dating back almost a decade):
From the ED EHR of April 15, 2010 in an admission for abdominal pain from rectal stricture, resulting in an anoplasty (widening) as an elective outpatient surgical procedure a few days later:
ED EHR of April 15, 2010
1) Cozaar: 25 milligram(s) PO Daily. [For high blood pressure - ed.]
2) Albuterol: unknown dose. [For bronchitis - ed.]
3) Restoril: 30 milligram(s) PO Daily. [Sleeping pill - ed.]
4) Humulin N: 10 units in am,8 units in pm. [Insulin - ed.]
5) Sotalol Hydrochloride: 120 milligram(s) PO Every 12 hours. [For heart rhythm, see here - ed.]
PAST MEDICAL HISTORY
MEDICAL HISTORY: Hernia NOS , Atrial Fibrillation [a dangerous heart rhythm that Sotalol prevents - ed.], DMII Wo Cmp Nt ST Uncntr [diabetes - ed], Bronchitis, Urinary Tract Infection NOS, Hypertension.
This is not exactly a complex or taxing medications list or medical history.
Now, from the ED EHR of May 19, 2010, after a Transient Ischemic Attack with temporary slurred speech (aphasia) and narrowed left carotid artery identified as the culprit:
ED EHR of May 19, 2010
1) Albuterol: unknown dose.
2) Humulin N: 10 units in am,8 units in pm.
3) Cozaar: 25 milligram(s) PO Daily.
4) Restoril: 30 milligram(s) PO Daily.
5) Atrovent HFA
[Note that something important's missing - the critical heart rhythm maintaining medication, Sotalol. It's simply gone - de-listed - even though WE WERE ASKED on May 19 in the ED if she still took it based on the computer's current meds listing of April 2010, and replied "yes." It then somehow disappeared ... perhaps due to a mission hostile user interface, or quality issues analogous to these ED EHR observations from Down Under? - ed.]
PAST MEDICAL HISTORY
MEDICAL HISTORY: Hernia NOS , Atrial Fibrillation, DMII Wo Cmp Nt ST Uncntr, Bronchitis, Urinary Tract Infection NOS, Hypertension.
SURGICAL HISTORY: anaplasty [misspelling in the original; errors like this make record searching and data analyses a challenge. "Anaplasty" and "anoplasty" are quite different. But what's a little EHR error among friends? - ed.]
PSYCHIATRIC HISTORY: No previous psychiatric history.
SOCIAL HISTORY: Denies alcohol abuse, denies tobacco abuse.
MEDICAL HISTORY: [Obviously repetitious of the above, but this is exactly how the record appears - ed.] Hernia NOS, Atrial Fibrillation, Dmii Wo Cmp Nt St Uncntr, Bronchitis NOS, Urin Tract Infection NOS, Hypertension, bronchiectasis, TGA in 88, post-herpetic neuralgia, possible WPW variant.
SOCIAL HISTORY: Denies alcohol abuse, denies tobacco abuse, lives alone with son nearby. [Also duplicative; a little cut 'n paste action? - ed.]
Note that the duplicate versions of MEDICAL HISTORY and SOCIAL HISTORY at the bottom contain critical information not in the versions at the top, such as "possible WPW variant" and "lives alone with son nearby."
WPW syndrome (Wolff-Parkinson-White) is a syndrome that predisposes to heart rhythm disturbances such as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and atrial fibrillation. I offered that history to ED staff as a reason my mother took Sotalol. I also offered that I once had the WPW syndrome myself, and had recurrent episodes of both SVT and atrial fibrillation, until intervention via the 'catheter ablation' technique in the mid 1990's. The "WPW variant" made it to her chart. The medication did not.
This ED EHR report is a major information presentation faux pas, showing sloppy report generation and poor presentation of information, since people in a hurry -- such as in an ED, or in an ICU where my mother was admitted -- may not scan the duplicate versions below for critical data not in the top version. The repetition with added items in the lower-down versions is inexcusable.
This is the type of IT work done by amateurs. In fact the shabby ED EHR output could be considered an accident of omission waiting to happen. I covered this type of flaw here: http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2009/02/are-health-it-designers-testers-and.html .
So what meds actually were ordered after she left the ED and entered the ICU?
Several days later, after my mother was transferred out of ICU to the neuro floor in prep for a carotid stenting, my mother went into uncontrolled atrial fibrillation. In front of my eyes at around dinnertime. Sotalol has a half life of just about 12 hours. After a few days of missing it, it's effectively gone, at a level so low in the blood as to be ineffective.
I immediately asked nursing to call the physician, and asked how this was even possible on Sotalol. All I got back was a puzzled look.
Sotalol had never been ordered.
Long story short, in correcting the iatrogenic atrial fibrillation (the arrhythmia itself a stroke risk), Sotalol was restarted and IV heparin and electrical cardioversion (shock to the chest) were employed.
While initially successful in restoring normal heart rhythm, the IV heparin then precipitated a massive cerebellar hemorrhage around 2 AM the next morning (in an area of the brain entirely different from the cerebral language center supplied by the carotid). IV heparin is a dangerous drug you especially want to avoid in the elderly.
In what I thought might be her last words to me, all my mother could say when I arrived as they were taking her for surgery was a very agitated and frightened-out-of-her-wits "Scot-headache-headache-headache-I'm sick-I'm sick-I'm sick." The headache pain from the bleed must have been absolutely excruciating and horrendous.
She had the pallor of death about her.
The sheer horror of that moment, seeing my mother like that, sticks with me even though I am a physician.
Her CT looked dreadful, much like the stock image below:
Emergency craniotomy (brain surgery) was then performed by a neurosurgeon to save her life, followed by months of medical complications and agitated delirium resistant to most medications.
The brainstem sits anterior to the cerebellum, and brainstem compression from the bleed caused paralysis of the muscles of swallowing. A surgically placed stomach feeding tube through the abdominal wall was thus required, which in her delirium she yanked out, thus forcing total parenteral nutrition (TPN) via a central (deep) IV line until the site healed. (She was lucky she did not do herself a major injury by pulling the through-the-abdomen gastric feeding tube, which should have been far better protected with a delirious patient.)
The first ingredient I noted in the initial TPN bag was a medication my mother was allergic to, famotidine, but another EMR defect I uncovered prevented the clinicians from realizing this. It was only my personal knowledge that prevented administration. I ended up filing my own FDA MAUDE report on this EHR defect...to my knowledge the hospital did not, and has not.
The complications of the bleed and craniotomy surgery also forced the re-started Sotalol to be discontinued, as bleeds in the head adversely affect the heart's electrical intervals, and a drug like Sotalol can kill under those conditions (e.g., see Torsade de Pointes).
The forced discontinuation of Sotalol resulted once again in sudden return of atrial fibrillation that is now permanent. Correction or even appropriate anti-stroke treatment would require anticoagulation such as heparin and coumadin, and these are contraindicated due to the bleed.
My mother has been painted into a very bad corner, with irreparable cardiac injury putting her at increased stroke risk, and a severely damaged brain that has resulted in her being an invalid who frequently is in an agitated delirium, and/or no longer recognizes her own son. While her swallowing returned after several months, her mind never recovered.
In effect, the EHR toxicity caused the following personnel (at the very least) to miss my mother's Sotalol de-listing, which apparently propagated from ED to ICU to floor due to lack of any discernible fail-safes or meaningful reconciliation:
- ED triage nurse
- ED physician [who stunningly notes in the record "She had a prior history of atrial fibrillation. However, per her report this has resolved and she is not currently taking any anticoagulation." A true statement - except he forgets to address the first-year medical student-level question: "atrial fibrillation resolved - how?" The answer that I'd related to him was "her atrial fibrillation resolved on Sotalol"; Sotalol is a take-for-life drug. On the NIH page about Sotalol: "Sotalol controls your condition but does not cure it. Continue to take Sotalol even if you feel well. Do not stop taking sotalol without talking to your doctor."]
- ED staff nurse
- Two neuro-interventionalist physicians
- Multiple medical residents
- ICU physicians
- ICU nurses and staff
- Floor nurses and physicians after transfer from ICU to neuro floor
I further observe: it is nearly unbelievable to me that not one person out of all the clinicians who saw my mother during this admission, even when transferring her from ED to ICU to floor, detected this fundamental, major medical error via ED and inpatient histories dating back almost a decade. Is interfacing between the floor and ED EHRs an issue? Are the EHR's too mission hostile for busy clinicians to use? What in hell was going on here?
You'd think that for the $25+ million dollars spent by this organization on HIT, the IT could have included failsafe features on meds and other life-critical data. Has the computer become deified in this culture; its outputs, a Testament that nobody challenges?
I tragically note that one Sotalol pill, worth perhaps a few cents, probably could have prevented the catastrophe if the error had been detected even as late as floor transfer from ICU.
To add insult to injury, the following was added to the ICU H&P sheet some time after the catastrophic brain bleed:
Undated, untimed additions to medical charts with illegible signatures violate Joint Commission, Medicare and State Medical Professional standards of conduct, among others.
I leave it to the reader as to why this chart alteration might have been attempted.
When I saw this, needless to say, I was very upset. I demanded an immediate printout of the eMAR (electronic medication administration record), lest that be altered as well. The eMAR fortunately showed Sotalol had indeed not been ordered prior to the onset of the A. fib. I do not know what it might have showed a week ... or a month ... later, had I not been a nosy and medicine/medical informatics-educated patient advocate for my mother.
As I did not have my Power of Attorney documents for my mother with me, I demanded the eMAR printout and copy of the altered ICU H&P be sealed in an envelope whose glue flap I signed, to be held until I retrieved my POA documents from the nearby bank allowing me to take custody of copies of both these documents.
This is how toxic these wonderful non-FDA approved or vetted, Obama HITECH-pushed Cybernetic Revolutionizers of Medicine can be, when not "done well."
It should be noted that further errors of this type at this hospital system would very likely amount to criminal negligence.
Happy Mother's Day.