An IT crowd contractor unplugged a crucial diagnostic computer from a hospital network so he could use the plug for something else, according to an inspector general report.
Apparently it took the Veterans Affairs Department hospital in Philadelphia more than a year to work out that the computer was not connected.
The computer ran an application called the VariSeed treatment planning system, which oncologists use to focus radiation treatment on cancer hotspots.
VA clinicians performed 17 procedures to insert radioactive seeds that treat prostate cancer. Without the network connection, X-rays showing the location of radioactive seeds could not be transferred to the VariSeed computer, making it difficult for doctors to determine the patients’ response to treatment.
Fortunately no one died as a result of the gaffe but more than 38 veterans or their wives have filed claims against the hospital for alleged injuries.
Clinicians in the Philadelphia hospital’s Radiation Oncology Service repeatedly reported the computer problem every quarter for a year, but the computer was not reconnected to the network until November 2007.
To make matters worse the inspector general found the VariSeed computer operated outside the Philadelphia hospital’s secure networks and was used by the oncology service staff to check e-mail and access the Internet.