Computer woes hit Banner hospital system
Ken Alltucker, The Arizona Republic 12:30 a.m. EST February 20, 2014
The Phoenix-based health system used backup paper records to help provide patient care.
PHOENIX -- Banner Health grappled with a widespread computer outage Wednesday as hospitals and doctors resorted to backup paper systems to provide care for patients.
The Phoenix-based health system did not immediately know what triggered the computer troubles that started just before 10 a.m. PST. An official described the computer troubles as a rolling outage of computer systems at hospitals and other health care facilities in Phoenix, Colorado and Nevada.
"Not knowing" means that you are not in control of your life-critical information systems; rather, they are in control of you.
By late Wednesday, a spokesman said, technicians had identified the problem and were fixing it. They expect to investigate the root cause of the problem Thursday.
It took from 10 AM to "late Wednesday" to identify a problem causing a mass outage. That should give anyone pause about dependency on fragile information systems in the hands of hospital IT departments (whose personnel undergo an ocean's less qualification-vetting than the medical personnel who depend on their work product) for one's medical care.
Banner Health, the Phoenix area's largest health care system, activated "downtime procedures" that included using paper-based systems to track medications and other care provided to patients, officials said.
Banner's emergency departments still provided care to patients and accepted new patients.
Some non-emergency surgeries and appointments were delayed because of the computer troubles.
"There have been some delays and inconveniences, but we are still providing care," said Bill Byron, Banner Health's senior vice president of public relations.
In other words, what they are saying is "we really don't need these systems, that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, to provide care with the same degree of safety as with our 'downtime procedures' (a.k.a. paper)" ... and that patient safety was not compromised by this mass outage.
Banner Health, which operates 24 hospitals and several primary-care offices and outpatient centers in more than a half-dozen states, was working to "reboot" the computer systems Wednesday evening through a series of sequential fixes, Byron said.
In the meantime, Banner officials were able to retrieve computer-based records that detailed patients' medical histories, including any medications, laboratory results and procedures that were previously performed.
Officials? What about line clinicians? And when did this capability start if the systems needed to be "rebooted?"
Nurses and doctors shifted to writing on paper records after the computer systems experienced trouble Wednesday morning.
Information from those paper charts will be keyed into the patients' computer-based health records after the problem is fixed.
Sure, and nothing will be lost that could adversely affect patients in the future....
Banner Health has been among the most advanced health systems in the nation in converting to computer-based health records.
Banner Estrella Medical Center was among the first hospitals to open as an "all-digital" facility in the past decade. Banner's other hospitals have largely completed the final stages of installing computerized record-keeping in areas such as physician order and entry and electronic documentation.
If they are the most advanced, what does this event say about those less advanced?
Arizona law does not require hospitals to notify state health regulators in the event of such a widespread outage.
Health IT, as usual, enjoys widespread and extraordinary regulatory accommodation.
However, some hospitals have internal policies requiring that they notify health accrediting organizations or federal regulatory agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an Arizona Department of Health Services spokeswoman said.
And how many do? Not many, I predict.