Monday, May 26, 2014

Athens Regional Medical Center: Hospital management is "addressing computer problems" AFTER patients are put at bodily risk, not before, only in response to irate clinicians; then claiming everything will be fixed soon while doctors resign.

Maybe hospital management gurus could address these computer problems BEFORE turning them loose on patients?

Physicians in Georgia seem to have more guts than their colleagues elsewhere.  Rather than letting patients be guinea pigs for the naive fantasies of hospital executives about health IT, these physicians said "get these [expletive] computer systems out of our hospital"...

Then they started resigning their appointments:

Athens Regional addressing new computer system problems encountered by doctors

By Donnie Z. Fetter
Friday, May 23, 2014

Doctors affiliated with Athens Regional Medical Center ( have expressed concerns that a computer system installed this month at the hospital endangers patients.

Not "may endanger patients."  "Endangers patients."  That's quite direct.

However, the hospital's chief executive said Athens Regional is taking "swift action" to address those concerns.

I'm not impressed.  The executives should perhaps have done due diligence and taken action BEFORE this bad health IT was set loose on live, unsuspecting patients.

It's not as if the issues are unknown (as Google or anyone who actually knows what they're doing regarding health IT will easily demonstrate).  Further, those executives have the legal obligation to maintain a safe healthcare environment.

In a letter dated May 15 and provided to the Athens Banner-Herald this week, multiple doctors noted such concerns as “medication errors ... orders being lost or overlooked ... (emergency department) patients leaving after long waits; and of an inpatient who wasn’t seen by a physician for (five) days.”

Any of these issues and the multitude more I can predict exist can lead to severe injury or death, especially in fragile patients and the elderly.  Trust me, I know both professionally and personally...
The letter was addressed to ARMC President and CEO James G. Thaw and Senior Vice President and CIO Gretchen Tegethoff. It was signed by more than a dozen physicians, including Carolann Eisenhart, president of the medical staff; Joseph T. Johnson, vice president of the medical staff; David M. Sailers, surgery department chair; and, Robert D. Sinyard, medicine department chair.

The doctor who provided the letter to the Banner-Herald refused a request to openly discuss the issues with the computer system and asked to remain anonymous at the urging of his colleagues.

Refused a request to openly discuss the issues with the computer system and asked to remain anonymous at the urging of his colleagues ... due to fear the executives would then return the doctor's concerns with genuine love and appreciation, and give him or her a generous promotion and pat on the back, no doubt.  (Actually, quite likely was a fear of retaliation, e.g. sham peer review as at

Note the educational background of CIO Gretchen Tegerhoff, the executive with fiduciary obligations to implement health IT of the highest quality and to have robustly researched all of the issues involved (and whom the Board should have thoroughly vetted as to required background for health IT leadership):

University of Georgia
Terry College of Business, Executive Program, Finance
2014 – 2014 (expected)

The George Washington University - School of Business
Master of Science, Information Systems Technology
2001 – 2003

West Virginia University
BS, Medical Technology
1993 – 1997

Note the career progression that is the envy of, say, someone who's completed the rigors of medical training (premed, medical school, internship/residency, clinical postdocs) and beyond that, completed an additional PhD, MS or post-doctoral fellowship in Medical Informatics at unknown universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, etc. (reverse chrono):

Technical Analyst
STG (9 months)
[Provided U.S. Department of State with systems support and application maintenance.]

Clinical Systems Analyst
George Washington University Hospital (3 years 8 months)

Technical Support Specialist/Installer
Intellidata, Inc. (9 months)

Clinical Research Associate
QUINTILES, INC. (9 months)

Information Specialist
THE EMMES CORPORATION (1 year 8 months)


Medical Technologist

This background led directly to:

Chief Information Officer
George Washington University Hospital (6 years 8 months)

and then the current role:

Athens Regional Health System
Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Athens Regional Health System

If you believed that the qualifications required for medical practice - let alone medical leadership roles - is at least an order of magnitude more robust, you'd not be mistaken.

Perhaps even worse, business-IT amateur meddlers in clinical affairs sell the "best practices" that lead to debacles like this, and perhaps to IT-related patient injury and death, via their alphabet-soup "leadership" organizations.  This CIO also holds this credential:

CHIME Healthcare CIO Boot Camp (8 months)

It should be noted, and scandalously so considering the negligence that leads to patient endangerment and this kind of physician revolt from the outset, that IT-related patient harms are not uncommon.  For example, per the Harvard community's med mal insurer CRICO, see "Malpractice Claims Analysis Confirms Risks in EHRs" at, the ECRI Institute, see "ECRI Deep Dive Study of Health IT harms" at as well as "ECRI Institute's 2014 Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations" at, "FDA Internal Memo on H-IT risks - for internal use only" (uncovered by investigative reporter Fred Schulte) at, and others as posted at this blog.

“From the moment our physician leadership expressed concern about the Cerner I.T. conversion process on May 15, we took swift action and significant progress has been made toward resolving the issues raised,” Thaw wrote Thursday in an email. “Providing outstanding patient care is first and foremost in our minds at Athens Regional, and we have dedicated staff throughout the hospital to make sure the system is functioning as smoothly as possible through this transition."

This raises several questions:

  • How about the moments from the time of decision to acquire the technology?  What safety consideration were in effect during that time? 

  • What if the "significant progress" is insufficient to prevent a patient from being maimed or killed due to toxic effects of bad health IT?  Who's responsible? 

  • Perhaps most importantly from the human rights perspective - are patients being provided informed consent about these "issues raised" and are they afforded the opportunity to seek care elsewhere until the "swift progress" is completed?  

One wonders if the executives were aware of analytic work on Cerner ED systems such as performed by U. Sydney professor Jon Patrick at "A study of an Enterprise Health information System",; or this site on health IT difficulties:, or this blog and others.

It's not as if a simple Google search won't find them, such as  Perhaps they need to read more...or hire experts BEFORE go-live.

Back to the article:

The intended goal of the system designed by health care information technology company Cerner is to improve efficiency and connectivity by providing doctors, nurses and other medical professionals with a shared data set and to eventually allow patients online access to their medical records, Athens Regional executives previously said.

Good intentions or not, badly designed and/or implemented technology harms or kills, and those harmed, or the dead, really don't care what the system is 'intended to do.'  Patients are not guinea pigs towards an IT company's or hospital's experiments with computers - regarding which the executives are usually in to at a level way over their collective heads.

But doctors noted the new system often proved too cumbersome to be effective at the time the letter was written.

“The Cerner implementation has driven some physicians to drop their active staff privileges at ARMC,” noted the letter. “This has placed an additional burden on the hospitalists, who are already overwhelmed.

That's just horrendous for safety.

Joint Commission, where are you?
Other physicians are directing their patients to St. Mary’s (hospital) for outpatient studies, (emergency room) care, admissions and surgical procedures. ... Efforts to rebuild the relationships with patients and physicians (needs) to begin immediately.”

Doctors voted with their feet.  Bravo.

I suggest they consider the following remedies as well if appropriate, from my post at

... When a physician or other clinician observes health IT problems, defects, malfunctions, mission hostility (e.g., poor user interfaces), significant downtimes, lost data, erroneous data, misidentified data, and so forth ... and most certainly, patient 'close calls' or actual injuries ... they should (anonymously if necessary if in a hostile management setting):

(DISCLAIMER:  I am not responsible for any adverse outcomes if any organizational policies or existing laws are broken in doing any of the following.)

  • Inform their facility's senior management, if deemed safe and not likely to result in retaliation such as being slandered as a "disruptive physician" and/or or being subjected to sham peer review (link).
  • Inform their personal and organizational insurance carriers, in writing. Insurance carriers do not enjoy paying out for preventable IT-related medical mistakes. They have begun to become aware of HIT risks. See, for example, the essay on Norcal Mutual Insurance Company's newsletter on HIT risks at this link. (Note - many medical malpractice insurance policies can be interpreted as requiring this reporting, observed occasional guest blogger Dr. Scott Monteith in a comment to me about this post.)
  • Inform the State Medical Society and local Medical Society of your locale.
  • Inform the appropriate Board of Health for your locale.
  • If applicable (and it often is), inform the Medicare Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) of your state or region. Example: in Pennsylvania, the QIO is "Quality Insights of PA."
  • Inform a personal attorney.
  • Inform local, state and national representatives such as congressional representatives. Sen. Grassley of Iowa is aware of these issues, for example.
  • As clinicians are often forced to use health IT, at their own risk even when "certified" (link), if a healthcare organization or HIT seller is sluggish or resistant in taking corrective actions, consider taking another risk (perhaps this is for the very daring or those near the end of their clinical career). Present your organization's management with a statement for them to sign to the effect of:
"We, the undersigned, do hereby acknowledge the concerns of [Dr. Jones] about care quality issues at [Mount St. Elsewhere Hospital] regarding EHR difficulties that were reported, namely [event A, event B, event C ... etc.]

We hereby indemnify [Dr. Jones] for malpractice liability regarding patient care errors that occur due to EHR issues beyond his/her control, but within the control of hospital management, including but not limited to: [system downtimes, lost orders, missing or erroneous data, etc.] that are known to pose risk to patients. We assume responsibility for any such malpractice.

With regard to health IT and its potential negative effects on care, Dr. Jones has provided us with the Joint Commission Sentinel Events Alert on Health IT at, the IOM report on HIT safety at, and the FDA Internal Memorandum on H-IT Safety Issues at

CMO __________ (date, time)
CIO ___________ (date, time)
CMIO _________ (date, time)
General Counsel ___________ (date, time)
  • If the hospital or organizational management refuses to sign such a waiver (and they likely will!), note the refusal, with date and time of refusal, and file away with your attorney. It could come in handy if EHR-related med mal does occur.
  • As EHRs remain experimental, I note that indemnifications such as the above probably belong in medical staff contracts and bylaws when EHR use is coerced.

These measures can help "light a fire" under the decision makers, and "get the lead out" of efforts to improve this technology to the point where it is usable, efficacious and safe.

More from the article:

Doctors called the time line to install the EHR system too “aggressive” and said there was a “lack of readiness” among the intended users.

For financial incentive reasons in part, I'm sure.  Computers, after all, seem to have more rights than patients...or than physicians and nurses.

Since receiving the letter, Thaw said Athens Regional has added "specialized staff" to meet daily with physicians to discuss computer system and safety issues.

Again, the key word is "AFTER."   A good move, considering the hospital will be up to its head in defections, accreditation inspections and hearings, and possible medical malpractice and corporate liability lawsuits otherwise.

"Regardless of what system we are using, our focus on patient safety is unwavering, and we will never put a system ahead of doing what is right for our patients," Thaw said. "Our team is working around the clock to resolve any remaining issues, and we remain dedicated to delivering outstanding patient care every step of the way."

Feel-good executive boilerplate and an outright lie on its face.  If the focus on safety was unwavering, this problems would not now need emergency remediation.  As I had written many years ago here:, this type of shallow executive puffery and rhetoric only makes clinicians angrier.

And while events like this go on, the industry pundits suggest all that's needed is a Health IT 'Safety Center' instead of regulation like the rest of the healthcare industry ("Feds Call For Health IT Safety Center", May 20, 2014,,26#.U4FVDnYsC).  This is sort of like putting the safety of our country's hospitals in the hands of Consumer Reports.

That's not exactly the ticket to a rapid cure to these problems, which are more common than most physicians have the bravery (or career options in the face of retaliation) to admit.

At least nurses' unions are taking action, as at and

Additional thought:  at least the writer of the article did not use the customary euphemism for problems with patient-endangering bad health IT, specifically: "glitches" (

-- SS

May 27, 2014 Addendum:

The CEO has apparently resigned, see

I also solicit physicians from the area of this hospital to contact me regarding any patient harms that did occur as a result of this debacle, via my email address located here:  I will forward any reports through appropriate legal channels to attorneys who can take action, which in 2014 is probably the only language this industry will actually listen to.

-- SS

May 27, 2014 Addendum 2:

The reader comments at are interesting, and distressing.

-- SS

May 29, 2014 Addendum:

More here:

If I were that's hospital's new leadership, I'd immediately go back to whatever system (whether paper or not) was in place before this implementation, and take the time to implement new health IT properly, safely and carefully.

For at this point, if patient injury or death occurs as a result of a system flaw (whether in design or implementation), I believe charges of criminal negligence against the organization and its leaders would be justified.

The following is an example of one state's statute defining criminal negligence:

''A person acts with 'criminal negligence' with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.''

I believe other states' statutes are similar.

-- SS

June 13, 2013 Addendum:

My post on Athens Regional Medical Center's physician revolt was accessed today by someone at Cerner; note the referring link:

Vertabase ( makes project management software. is some sort of password-protected document resource.

I find that interesting - perhaps it's for internal communications and they are learning something from me.

Domain Name (Unknown) 
IP Address159.140.254.# (Cerner Corporation)
ISPCerner Corporation
Continent : North America
Country : United States  (Facts)
State : Kansas
City : Kansas City
Lat/Long : 39.1111, -94.6904 (Map)
LanguageEnglish (U.S.)
Operating SystemMacintosh MacOSX
Browser Safari 1.3
Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_8_5) AppleWebKit/536.30.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/6.0.5 Safari/536.30.1
Javascriptversion 1.5
Resolution : 1440 x 900
Color Depth  : 24 bits
Time of Visit Jun 13 2014 11:47:42 am
Last Page ViewJun 13 2014 11:47:42 am
Visit Length0 seconds
Page Views 1
Referring URL
Visit Entry Page
Visit Exit Page
Out Click
Time Zone UTC-6:00
Visitor's TimeJun 13 2014 10:47:42 am
Visit Number 1,342,222

 -- SS

Note: also see my June 16, 2014 followup post at


Anonymous said...

Corporate negligence raw.

Anonymous said...

What were the false claims made by the vendor and the hospital and its HIT champions to brainwash the doctors and nurses? Just wonderin

Anonymous said...

These EHR systems are oppressive to doctors and nurses, and concomitantly endanger patients.

The actions by these doctors in Athens should serve as a model response by doctors and nurses nationally.

It would behoove the staff at Athens to read of the Cerner catastrophes in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Wow! The reader comments are amazing from Athens. These people have finally puked their guts out after experiencing so much nausea caused by corrupt leadership cramming dangerous technology in the faces of innocent patients. I could easily see this happening in my facility.

Steve Lucas said...

From a business perspective the question is: Who is the customer?

We would say the customer is the patient and doctor. The reality is the customer is the hospital and the vendor themselves.

The hospital is looking to drive revenue so they often have a system that is built on top of their billing system, adding to this the computer people, having no medical experience, view everything from this perspective. This then drives such things as repeated testing to drive revenue. How many times have patients been asked if they have had a test and then responded yes, but they do not remember when and the doctor checking a box says: We will run that test again just to be sure.

The vendor becomes their own customer when they look at the financial gain of poor systems, cost plus contracts, and ownership of data. One major vendor owns all of the data generated under a contract and even after the contract expires they still own all of the patient records. Additionally during the contract period the hospital is obligated to accept any and all upgrades on the vendor’s schedule, not the hospitals.

This brings new meaning to the phrase: Who are you working for?

This is an example of what happens when this system completely collapses and from my perspective this is the proper response. Doctors need to protect themselves and their patients and if another more supportive hospital is available they need to practice their, not at a hospital so poorly run they put themselves and patients at risk.

Steve Lucas

Steve Lucas said...

While this link does not address EMR’s directly I feel it reflects the economic interest of those who are involved in their implementation.

The numbers involved in repetitive testing are mind boggling, combined with the subtle scheduling of patients and the use of other medical professionals all combine to create an economically unsupportable system. Today many US doctors do not use a stethoscope, instead getting an EKG and even an echo as part of a routine office visit.

Recently I read that there will now be included an HPV test as part of a woman’s yearly exam. This in no way eliminates the need for a PAP smear but will add cost and give what in additional information?

What this will do is cement the concept that women need the HPV vaccine, a vaccine that has not been well accepted by the public. We also see that not only cervical cancer deaths, but diagnosis and male throat cancers are now attributed to the HPV virus raising the numbers attributed to this condition.

We have enough money already in our medical system and enough doctors if, and only if, we would treat the sick and stopped administrators and others from siphoning large sums of money in a never ending drive for higher salaries and amenities.

A friend reminded me that money is not the root of all evil; the love of money is the root of all evil. These people have proven their love of money outstrips their respect for other human beings and even human life.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Cerner in the UK:

A tragic outcome for Cerner Millennium implementation at Bath?

...Three year-old Samuel Starr died in the arms of his parents as his they read him his favourite stories at the local hospital.
At an inquest this week his parents, and specialists, raised questions about whether long delays in arranging appointments on a new Cerner Millennium system at Bath’s Royal United Hospital, which replaced an old “TDS” patient administration system, was a factor in his death.


UK CfH CEO Richard Granger was quoted as saying:

“Sometimes we put stuff in that I’m just ashamed of. Some of the stuff that Cerner has put in recently is appalling. It really isn’t usable because they have been building a system with Fujitsu without listening to what the end users want. They have taken some account but they then had to take a lot more. Now they’re being held to account because that’s my job.”

We asked for a comment from NHS Connecting for Health, whose chief executive is Richard Granger. We put it to CfH that a number of hospital trusts were preparing to implement to Cerner's systems and were already, before Richard Granger's reported comments, concerned about the risks of failure and the uncertainties over how well Cerner's Millenium product could be adapted for widespread use in the UK. We asked whether such concerns may be deepened by the reported comments about Cerner.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

InformaticsMD said...

I note that the problems are not just related to one specific health IT seller. The problems are far broader than that, due to systemic dysfunction across the "health IT ecosystem" (see

-- SS

Anonymous said...

The Joint Commission showed up at Athens Regional today. This should be interesting...

Anonymous said...

JC had minor findings. Probably will revisit in 6 months...

Anonymous said...

The JOint Commission always has minor findings. Sort of a farce, providing the illusion that hospitals are safe because of its accreditation.

The Joint Commission is an organization of the hospitals, by the hospitals, and for the hospitals.

It is not unlike the CCHIT (pronounced sea $heet) of the HIT vendors that duped Congress into thinking that certification of HIT meant safety.

InformaticsMD said...

Anonymous June 13, 2014 at 3:10:00 PM EDT said...

JC had minor findings

It is fact that they came into the picture a little bit late, after the organization had time to change some things.

-- SS