The wide adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and other electronic systems inevitably means that healthcare facilities will have to cope with outages. Several facilities recently have experienced how much the failure of one of those systems can cripple a hospital.
Registered nurses at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, CA, have asked the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) to investigate the failure of an electronic health records system at their hospital, which they say led to the closure of the hospital emergency department and multiple other problems that put patients at risk.
In a message to the Los Angeles DPH office, Antelope Valley nurse Maria Altamirano, RN, reported that “our entire electronic and data system failed.” She was speaking on behalf of other nurses who are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
Antelope Valley Hospital issued a statement confirming that the hospital experienced a “rare information system outage” but said the issue was quickly identified and did not compromise patient safety. The emergency department continued to treat patients during the outage, the hospital stated.
The nurses’ union contends that the outage created problems with properly dispensing medications; verifying physician orders; reviewing patient labs, MRIs, and other diagnostic procedures; and led to an inability for clinicians to review patient records.
Boston Children’s Hospital’s system also experienced an outage recently that affected lab orders, pharmacy work, and electronic prescription writing. Digital imaging, patient registration, and scheduling continued to run, according to a hospital statement.
“The outage was quickly identified, and the staff quickly shifted to patient care services that don’t rely on electronic systems, such as face-to-face communications, direct hand-offs, read backs and running pharmacy notes from floor to pharmacy,” according to the hospital statement.
The Boston Globe reported that the outage was caused by a hardware issue related to storage. Rob Graham, a spokesman for the hospital, told the Globe that less than five elective medical admissions were postponed, and all surgeries continued as planned. The incident was the longest outage the hospital has experienced with that health record system, he said.
In August 2013, an EHR system at several Bay Area hospitals operated by Sutter Health went completely dark for hours, which required nurses and doctors to effectively work without any access to patient information, including what medications patients were on or needed, patient history information that informs treatment options, and all other information required for safe patient care delivery.
Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville, CA, also reported a system blackout recently that was traced to a burned-out heating unit at an off-site data center. Patient records were not available, and email was not functional during the shutdown.