Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Another day, another EHR outage: MEDSTAR EHR goes dark for days

At my March 2, 2015 post "Rideout Hospital, California: CEO Pinocchio on quality of patient care during hospital computer crash" ( I highlighted a stunning example of when the light shone through the corporate B.S. about health IT outages, thanks to a letter to the editor by a family member of an affected patient:

Letter: Re: Rideout Hospital computer problems 

Friday, February 27, 2015 

I am writing in regard to comments made by the CEO of Rideout Hospital regarding its recent computer crash. 

He said quality of care for patients had not been compromised during this incident. He is lying.

My spouse went to Rideout almost two weeks ago and had a Lexiscan of her heart when the computer system went down. The hospital doctor released her and assured her that if anything were wrong, the radiology department would spot it and she would inform us.

Here it is two weeks later and now they are saying because of the computer problem the entire test didn't get to her cardiologist until today. They think she may have had a minor heart attack and needs further cardiac intervention.

 Is this the new "open and improved" truths we are getting from this hospital? Rideout CEO Robert Chason misinformed us all. 

I am sure my spouse, who has fallen through the cracks during this inexcusable lapse in Rideout's technical policies, is not the only patient suffering similar situations. 

Shame on Chason for minimizing the effects of this catastrophe at our local hospital. 

Edward Ferreira 
Yuba City

I am aware of another major EHR outage via


MEDSTAR EHR GOES DARK FOR DAYS: MedStar’s outpatient clinics in the D.C. and Baltimore area lost access to their EHRs Monday and Tuesday when the GE Centricity EHR system crashed. The system went offline for scheduled maintenance on Friday and had come back on Monday when it suffered a “severe” malfunction, according to an email from Medstar management that was shared with Morning eHealth.

“All of a sudden the screens lit up with a giant text warning telling us to log off immediately,” a doctor said. “They kept saying it would be back up in an hour, but when I left work Tuesday night it was still down.”

This doctor told us that the outage was “disruptive and liberating at the same time. I wrote prescriptions on a pad for two days instead of clicking 13 times to send an e-script. And I got to talk to my patients much more than I usually do.

But of course we didn’t have access to any notes or medication history, and that was problematic.” MedStar notified clinicians in the email that any information entered in the EHR after Friday was lost.

I do not know if corporate issued the standard "patient safety was not compromised" line, but can almost predict it was uttered somewhere along the line.

MedStar is a big healthcare system.  An outage for several days at its outpatient clinics is disruptive and will lead to harms in the short term, but also in the long term, that cannot be effectively tallied, due to lost information. 

That includes information put on backup paper that fails to get entered when an EHR goes back up, as well as outright computer data loss as occurred here.

Note the doctor's comments about the "liberating" aspect of being freed from health IT.  He/she could actually practice medicine, not computer babysitting.

How many harms will come of this "major malfunction?"  There is no way to know.  However, hospitals cannot have it both ways.  If these systems are touted as improving safety, then safety is affected when they are down and emergency measures are put into place, resulting in chaos; and certainly when information simply goes to the "bit bucket."

The answer?  Either far more redundancy, or far less reliance on "paperless" systems.

There also needs to be mandatory reporting of EHR outages and root cause analysis so the incidence and the reasons can be studied, at the very least.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

It was a well kept secret, until Politico was tipped off.

InformaticsMD said...

Physicians and nurses need to do far more tipping off. Transparency in the interest of patient care. Let the slobs who pushed this deranged technological mess on clinicians take the heat.

-- SS