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Problems with Cerner EHR Replacement Persist at Banner Health

State officials continue to investigate complaints related to the Cerner EHR replacement months into 2018.

Banner Health experiences problems with Cerner EHR replacement.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Problems with a 2017 Cerner EHR replacement at Banner Health’s Tucson hospitals and clinics have persisted into 2018, according to a report from Arizona Daily Star.

The health system first began experiencing difficulties in October 2017 after transitioning from an Epic EHR to a Cerner system as part of a $45-million EHR replacement project. Despite ongoing problems, hospital officials told local reporters patients at both Banner University Medical Centers in the area should start seeing fewer issues soon.

Since the Cerner implementation went live in October, patients have experienced slowdowns including longer wait times for appointments and medications, as well as scheduling delays. Initially, delays in patient care were attributed to the expected learning curve that follows an EHR implementation as hospital staff become accustomed to the new system.

However, the Arizona Department of Health Services has continued to receive a steady stream of complaints about the rollout since the system went live months ago.

This month, Banner Health released a statement saying it remains “highly focused” on the EHR replacement and is making “constant and steady improvements,” according Arizona Daily Star.

READ MORE: $178M Cerner EHR System Under Review After Persistent Problems

Additionally, the health system convened an Academic Technology Advisory group in late December in an attempt to improve operations. The advisory group comprises faculty leaders from all health specialties focused on guiding and prioritizing future innovations at Banner Health, according to Banner spokesperson Katie Riley. Officials stated the advisory group has yielded positive results.

Furthermore, officials stated there has been no statistically significant difference in mortality in Tucson over the last two years – including in the last quarter of 2017.

“In addition, there was no increase in reportable safety events,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Ruble in an emailed statement to Star reporters.

State officials this month have substantiated complaints about Banner’s Cerner implementation, but online records show Banner has not been fined or cited for problems arising from the rollout. On February 10, state officials released a statement saying investigators “looked at four allegations” against Banner Health. Two allegations were substantiated but have since been resolved by the health system. Two other complaints could not be substantiated.

Banner Health CEO Peter Fine admitted the health system underestimated the level of complexity of an EHR replacement project in remarks given at Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s State of the State presentation in January.

READ MORE: Rumored Cerner EHR, Amazon Partnership Talks in Final Stages

“Providers and patients have been inconvenienced and fixing this is our top priority,” Fine said. “Consumers expect more from us, and we expect more from ourselves.”

As of January 8, Banner Health patients had reported ongoing problems with appointment scheduling. Additionally, many existing appointments at the University of Arizona Cancer Center had been rescheduled.

Officials attributed problems with appointment scheduling to a system outage that affected many applications across its Cerner EHR system.

“In spite of our efforts, many patients were inconvenienced,” stated Ruble. “We greatly regret this.”

One Banner Health lung cancer patient, John Kimball, told Arizona Daily Star reporters he has experienced problems at the health system consistently since the October EHR implementation.

READ MORE: Rocky Cerner EHR Implementation Spurs Conflict, Billing Problems

Kimball travels to cancer treatment appointments from Sierra Vista in an hour and a half commute. Following the Cerner implementation, Kimball stated he had to wait three hours past his appointment time for a chemotherapy infusion. Prior to the EHR implementation, Kimball stated he never experienced such significant delays.

“I don’t know how much longer I will be a patient at Banner, as they are apparently trying to run me off by providing increasingly lousy service every time I have an appointment,” Kimball wrote in a letter to the Arizona Department of Health.

Kimball is scheduled to discuss his complaints with a Banner Health executive this month.

While the Cerner implementation may contribute to some delays in patient care delivery, Banner Health officials stated the severe flu season has also led to a spike in the number of patients at the health system and lengthened wait times in emergency departments.

Banner Health is continuing to work to improve problems with help from the technology advisory group, according to Ruble.

“For example, we are rolling out a feature that lets physicians dictate notes through their mobile devices directly into the patient chart,” stated Ruble. “This began in Tucson and is new technology that will be leveraged in our other markets in the future.”

Once problems are resolved, the Cerner implementation will improve patient care, advance clinical research, and provide benchmarking of clinical performance, Banner officials stated.

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