Medical software could kill Down Under

Aussie boffins are worried that there could be a number of deaths in the emergency departments in New South Wales hospitals as they try to run a computer system that was crippled by design flaws.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,  the FirstNet system was so well designed that treatment details and test results to be assigned inadvertently to the wrong patient.

So you could go into an emergency room with your knob super-glued to the bog seat and end up having your spleen removed. The bloke with the spleen problem would go home with his eyes stinging a bit.

A review of the system was carried out by looking at the software and interviews with directors of seven Sydney emergency departments. The report is so scathing it said that the $115 million system should be scrapped.

Sally McCarthy, the president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said the report confirmed that the system, loathed by doctors and nurses, was unsuitable for its purpose.

The project was part of a 10-year electronic medical records plan intended to make patient histories, X-rays and test results accessible from any hospital in the state.

However it was pushed through too fast because of the design contract. Doctors were not allowed to influence the development enough.

The potential for records to be linked to the wrong patient raised a serious risk they would be given incorrect treatment, she said, and the inability to compile multiple patient records into reports meant doctors could no longer evaluate new treatments or disease epidemics.

The system came from the US and was written by the US health computing giant Cerner in Missouri. It insisted that doctors stick in stupid information such as asking if male patients were not pregnant. However really important data had to be found by clicking through six screens to find the phone number of a patient’s GP while standing on one foot and humming the star spangled banner.

When doctors complained about the service health department technies sneered and said they were not qualified to see the elegance of the programming, or something similar.

Greg Wells, the chief information officer in NSW Health’s computer support division, said the problems were “known and are being addressed”. So we guess that means that Doctors should stop their whinging, turn the machines off and on again and get on with it.