Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

Sutter clinicians deal with unplanned downtime with Epic EHR

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- After a weekend that included an upgrade and limited access to the Epic EHR system, clinicians at Sutter hospitals in Northern California experienced unplanned outages on Aug. 26, according to an announcement by the California Nurses Association.

This is the same system that for the past several months, hospital administrators and clinicians have squared off in a debate over the EHR system reportedly costing the Sutter corporation around $1 billion in investments.

Here’s the breakdown of the events as described by the CAN:

Friday night, Epic was down for a planned “upgrade” for up to eight hours during which nurses and other users could read medication orders and patient histories, but not enter new data which was kept on paper records then re-entered into the computers later.

Monday morning around 8 a.m. at various Sutter hospitals, Epic suffered a meltdown, going completely dark, requiring nurses and doctors to effectively work blind 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.

The Epic EHR systems were finally brought back online during the late afternoon and early evening on Monday at the affected facilities:

• Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Berkeley and Oakland,
• Eden Medical Center facilities in Castro Valley,
• Mills Peninsula in Burlingame,
• Sutter Delta in Antioch,
• Sutter Tracy,
• Sutter Modesto,
• Sutter affiliated doctor’s offices and clinics.

The outage has added more fuel to the fire for the opponents of the Epic EHR adoption by Sutter, who continue to emphasize the risks posed by placing too much trust and being too reliant on health information technology.

“This incident is especially worrisome,” CNA legislative director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said in a public statement. “It is a reminder of the false promise of information technology in medical care. No access to medication orders, patient allergies and other information puts patients at serious risk. These systems should never be relied upon for protecting patients or assuring the delivery of the safest care.”

The unplanned downtime at Sutter is latest bit of bad news to hit the organization. In June, police in Oakland, Calif., discovered a cache of patient medical records during a drug bust affecting approximately 4,500 patients at Alta Bates Summit, Sutter Delta, and Eden Medical Center.

UPDATE (3:05PM): In response to the claims of the CNA, Sutter spokesman Bill Gleeson released the following statement to the public:

Sutter Health undertook a long-planned, routine upgrade of its electronic health record over the weekend. There’s a certain amount of scheduled downtime associated with these upgrades, and the process was successfully completed.

On Monday morning, we experienced an issue with the software that manages user access to the EHR. This caused intermittent access challenges in some locations. Our team applied a software patch Monday evening to resolve the issue and restore access.

Our caregivers and office staff have established and comprehensive processes that they follow when the EHR is offline. They followed these procedures. Patient records were always secure and intact.

Prior to Monday’s temporary access issue, our uptime percentage was an impressive 99.4% with these systems that operate 24/7.

We appreciate the hard work of our caregivers and support staff to follow our routine back-up processes, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused patients.

California Nurse Union continues to oppose the use of information technology in health care but we and other health care provider organizations demonstrate daily that it can be used to improve patient care, convenience and access. While it’s unfortunate the union exploited and misrepresented this situation, it comes as no surprise given the fact that we are in a protracted labor dispute with CNA.

Stay tuned for additional updates.

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