A recent computer outage involving Cerner -- a supplier of electronic health record systems to hospitals and physicians -- has raised concerns among health care providers about the risks of using EHR systems, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Details of Outage
On July 23, Cerner experienced a computer outage that affected certain hospitals that rely on the company to store medical data. Cerner attributed the outage to "human error."
Although it did not say how many hospitals were affected, Cerner said, "[O]ur clients all have downtime procedures in place to ensure patient safety." The company said that it might implement additional safeguards to prevent future outages.
According to Cerner, about 9,300 facilities worldwide use its medical software, including more than 2,600 hospitals.
Physicians and hospitals that were affected by the incident said they were not immediately aware of any patients harmed during the outage. However, they expressed concerns about the length of the outage and the failure of a backup system to kick in.
They said that physicians and nurses wrote orders and notes by hand during the outage. In many cases, they said, health care providers no longer had access to previous patient data that were saved remotely by Cerner.
Brent Haberman -- a pediatric pulmonologist -- said, "If you can't get to all the patient notes and all the previous data, you can imagine it's very confusing and mistakes could be made."
Critics have expressed concern that the federal government's push for EHR adoption could lead to unintended consequences.
Ross Koppel -- a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the safety and efficacy of EHR systems -- said, "As vendors and the federal government push for totally electronic systems, the vulnerabilities of these hospitals to [computer outages] increases exponentially."
However, Jacob Reider -- acting chief medical officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT -- said that computer outages like Cerner's are rare. He noted that there is no way to completely eliminate the potential for human error from health IT use (Terhune, Los Angeles Times, 8/3).