Electronic Records System Failure at Hospitals Prompts Nurses’ Concerns for Patient Safety

Press Release | National Nurses United | March 2, 2015

Registered nurses at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Ca have asked the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to investigate the failure of an electronic health records system at their hospital last weekend which they say led to the closure of the hospital emergency room and multiple other problems that put patients at risk.

In a message to the Los Angeles DPH office, Antelope Valley RN Maria Altamirano, on behalf of other RNs who are members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United warned that on February 27 “our entire electronic and data system failed.”

Among the consequences were problems with dispensation of needed medications, no verification of doctors’ orders, no review of patient labs, no review of radiology exams, MRIs, and other diagnostic procedures, and an inability of doctors and nurses to review patient records.

Compounding the problem, the hospital had to close the emergency department Friday night, February 27, and the failure of the hospital to have in place an adequate back up plan. “How many hospitals are compromising the lives of their patients by not having a back-up or plan of action in place for a catastrophic event as this?” Altamirano asked.

National Nurses United and CNA have for several years now repeatedly raised concerns about flawed EHR systems – not only when they fail completely, but even when they ostensibly are working.

Not far from Antelope Valley, last June a grand jury cited numerous problems with an EHR system used by the two Ventura County hospitals and 40 county clinics.

In August, 2013 an EHR system at several Bay Area hospitals operated by the Sutter Health corporation went completely dark for hours, 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.

RNs at an Ohio hospital, Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, Oh., as well as RNs in hospitals in Marin and Contra Costa counties in California have raised similar concerns about electronic systems. Most recently at Rideout Memorial Hospital in Yuba City, Ca. where an electronic health system crashed in February.

A report in Bloomberg News in July, 2013 cited severe risks to patients associated with EHR systems including dangerous doses of drugs administered, unnecessary surgeries and critical delays in providing patient information that have led to serious injury or death.

Last July, NNU called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enact much tougher oversight and public protections on the use of EHRs and the related computerized clinical decision support systems, including regulating them as medical devices at the highest level of oversight such as is applied before replacement heart valves are approved, improved transparency, and far greater research and testing.

In September, citing numerous failures, the American Medical Association also called for substantial overhaul of EHR technology.