Work halted Thursday at the Spokane Veterans’ Hospital after an update to a troubled computer system left patient data corrupt and unusable, according to patients and internal emails.
In an email sent Thursday morning and obtained by The Spokesman-Review, Robert Fischer, director of the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, told employees to stop using the electronic health record system they rely on. to coordinate healthcare and “Assume all electronic patient data is corrupt/inaccurate.”
Services would continue for patients already admitted to the hospital, he wrote, but no new patients would be admitted “until further notice” and the hospital’s chief of surgery would conduct an assessment of the safety of continuous surgical operations.
Fischer instructed staff to use “downtime procedures,” which involve handwriting patient information and entering it into the system when it comes back online. A Spokesman-Review investigation in December found the system had experienced multiple outages since its October 2020 launch at Mann-Grandstaff, but Fischer wrote that Thursday’s downtime was “unlike previous installments in that all the data” of several software “may be corrupted”. “
Problems with the system, developed by Missouri-based Cerner Corp. under a $10 billion contract, have delayed care, threatened patient safety and left VA workers exhausted and demoralized at home. Spokane Hospital and its outpatient clinics in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Wenatchee and Libby, Montana.
The rest of VA’s 171 hospitals and more than 1,100 clinics still use a different health records system that employees say works better, but the department hasn’t reverted Mann-Grandstaff to the old system, choosing instead to collect “lessons learned” in the Interior Northwest. to help other parts of the country avoid similar problems.
In his email, Fischer told employees they should “only provide health services that you are comfortable providing assuming all electronic sources of data are unreliable.”
“It is understood that the provision of health care, until these issues are resolved, will be very limited,” the email continued. “Empathy and an apologetic approach to patients will be very important.”
The manager noted that many patients would need their appointments rescheduled, but he also wrote that employees might not have access to schedules in the system.
Healthcare workers should “do everything possible to limit” drug orders, lab tests and imaging studies such as X-rays, Fischer wrote. All shipments, including prescriptions mailed to veterans, have also been suspended.
Joe Harmer, a 76-year-old army veteran who lives in Greenacres, said he called Mann-Grandstaff on Thursday for help with his prescriptions and was told, “No prescription can be fulfilled today”.
“They’re not able to see our records,” Harmer said. “Computers are completely down. They don’t know when they’ll be back.”
Jason Ernsting, a Navy veteran who lives in Nine Mile Falls, said he called the medical center to speak with his doctor and was told by another employee he couldn’t help because the system was down all day.
“Because they can’t see any medical records, not everyone can reach anyone,” Ernsting, 53, said in a text message. “It’s really unacceptable.”
VA press secretary Terrance Hayes confirmed in an email that the electronic health record system of Mann-Grandstaff and its associated outpatient clinics, as well as a VA facility in Las Vegas that handles accounts of patients, “experienced a service outage on March 3, 2022, due to an issue with patient demographics.”
“With great caution, the EHR (electronic health record) system has been taken offline to avoid any impact to patient care areas,” Hayes wrote. “VA healthcare teams have been notified and are following standard shutdown procedures until the issue is corrected.”
In a separate email obtained by The Spokesman-Review, a Mann-Grandstaff supervisor told employees not to use the system on Thursday or Friday and to expect an update by the end of the week. . Until the system is restored, the supervisor wrote, employees would have to hand-write veteran information.
Brian Sandager, managing director of Cerner Government Services, said the company is working to resolve the issue. The VA awarded the $10 billion contract to Cerner in 2018 without considering bids from other companies on the grounds that the software would work more effectively with a similar system Cerner had developed for the Department of Defense.
“Cerner remains steadfast in its support of VA’s efforts to provide timely, high-quality care to veterans through a modern, interoperable electronic health record,” Sandager said. “We are working hand in hand with our partner VA to address any concerns.”
In January, VA delayed the launch of the Cerner system at the next planned site in Columbus, Ohio – originally scheduled for March 5 – due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but so far the department has not pushed back the planned rollout of the system to March 26. at the VA Hospital in Walla Walla. The next sites on the tentative VA schedule are Roseburg and White City, Oregon on June 11; Boise on June 25; Anchorage, Alaska, July 16; and multiple facilities in the Puget Sound area on August 27.
Spokesperson for journalist Arielle Dreher contributed to this story.