Camden News - by TOM FOOT Published: 7 August 2008
‘Computer chaos puts patients at risk’ warning
A DAMNING report into weeks of computer chaos at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead has revealed fears that patient safety could be threatened following the pilot of a new system. The Cerner patients records system was introduced on June 17 to speed up appointment bookings by giving medical staff access to records at a touch of button. It is part of a move to digitalise patients’ paper records at the hospital.
But repeated system crashes have seen outpatient appointment bookings vanish in the system. During crunch talks last month, consultants said they feared for patients’ safety.
The report – written by the hospital’s clinical services director Charles Bruce, medical director Adrian Tookman and IT chief Heater O’Brien – revealed to hospital board members a series of “unexpected crashes” in a system they describe as “the most complicated the trust has ever built”.
Concern has focused on long delays for clinicians, brought about by “a fundamental lack of understanding in relation to the software”, described as being like “learning a new language”. The report concludes: “The main area of concern has been where doctors, who run extremely busy clinics, have found it impossible to use the system to its full potential due to the time available... The additional time needed to place orders, request appointments has resulted in frustration and in some cases delays.”
A specialist team has been commissioned to help update the botched records of more than 12,000 patients. The hospital has commissioned a special team to help get through the backlog of missing discharge details and appointments by August 21. New software is expected in October.
Failure to record properly every appointment will have financial consequences for the hospital, the report adds.
The system is supplied by British Telecom, which subcontracts the computer record programme to Cerner, a computer company based in Kansas.
Clinicians and doctors have told the New Journal they are happy with the concept of Cerner, but practically it has been a disaster. On the plus side, hospital chiefs say it has “brought to light gaps in quality of data on the old system”. This will stand the hospital in good stead when all paper records are replaced by the digital system next year.
The report concluded: “Being the first large acute trust to implement the LC1 version of the software has certainly proved to be challenging, but it will enable us to help develop the software over the next few years.”
A spokeswoman said that, as the introduction of the new system involved a massive change, some anxieties had been expressed by some staff at a consultant staff committee meeting. “This was attended by senior management at the trust and reassurance was given that processes have been in place since implementation to ensure any problems are quickly noted and addressed. There is a series of fail-safe mechanisms in place to ensure patient care is not compromised.”