In late July, 2012 dozens of hospitals across the United States faced a major computer outage. During this time these facilities lost access to important medical records. The outage on July 23 was from Cerner Corp., a Missouri-based organization that remotely stores electronic medical records for many hospitals and practices across the country. The problem was blamed on human error, and is raising new concerns about the effects on malfunctioning technology on patient care.
This type of computer system is used by hospital personnel to record and access patient information and communicate with other doctors. Computerized systems like this have been partially subsidized by the 2009 economic stimulus act. When the system works as it should, it improves care since medical providers have instant access to patient data, including testing information.
These systems are only becoming more common in the medical industry as the government will begin using financial penalties against practices and hospitals that do not change to using electronic records management systems by 2015.
Incidents like the July outage give critics more ammunition in the fight against electronic storage of patient information. Critics have said that these systems are often not designed very well and difficult to use. They feel that the government pushing these electronic systems could cause more harm than good, especially if not fully regulated.
Cerner has not given hard numbers on how many practices were affected by the outage, but a representative of the company was quoted as saying “our clients all have downtime procedures in place to ensure patient safety.” For instance, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital dealt with the outage by using a downtime process, enabling them to provide uninterrupted care.
Cerner has around 9,300 clients that use its software, which includes over 2,600 hospitals. Additionally, there are other companies including Epic Systems and General Electric that offer similar services. The Institute of Medicine is recommending the formation of an agency to investigate accidents and patient deaths that can be tied to this technology, and to put more regulations in place to prevent this.
Cerner is considering new safeguards that may prevent future incidents.
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