Are EHRs dooming a key public health system in California?

The rate of dissatisfaction among providers with EHRs has grown increasingly more vociferous, particularly in lieu of the debacle in Dallas and with numerous studies underscoring the theme. But,  according to a report from the Contra Costa Times, few organizations have been hit as hard as Alameda Health System, the public health system that runs […]

The rate of dissatisfaction among providers with EHRs has grown increasingly more vociferous, particularly in lieu of the debacle in Dallas and with numerous studies underscoring the theme.

But,  according to a report from the Contra Costa Times, few organizations have been hit as hard as Alameda Health System, the public health system that runs some of the Bay Area’s busiest and most vital hospitals and clinics, including Oakland trauma center Highland Hospital

The publicly-funded health system recently invested $77 million into a new EHR system, Siemens Sorian, developed by Siemens Healthcare. But major issues with its implementation and a host of other IT woes have significantly contributed to a precarious financial state for the safety-net system that operates in the Bay Area’s East Bay, according to the Times.

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David Cox, CFO for Alameda Health System, last month told the paper that IT problems are “complicated and significant, affecting about $50 million in operating expenses that otherwise could have been used to pay down debt,” the paper reported.

That’s not how Sieman’s sees it, nor is it the full scope of the financial challenges confronting the health system, officials said, according to the paper.

“Health care executives … have said hiccups in the implementation of a new Siemens Soarian electronic records system by Pennsylvania-based Siemens Healthcare are not the sole cause of the hospital network’s current woes, but the IT troubles play a big part in the cash flow crisis affecting Highland Hospital in Oakland and other hospitals and clinics run by the consortium. Other reasons for the liquidity problems are delayed reimbursements from the federal government and the system’s recent takeover of two hospitals in San Leandro and Alameda, administrators have said.”

Siemens provided the paper with a statement:

“The systems are operating at AHS within the parameters of the initial project scope and there is no malfunction within the technology,” the company said.

From the CC Times:

But “the activation did not go as well as planned,” Alameda Health System’s Chief Information Officer Dave Gravender reported to the hospital board of trustees earlier this year.
He was explaining billing problems involving the Soarian Financials system that went live in July 2013.
Several current and former employees of the health system told the paper there are issues with the new EHR system.

“One physician said lab results get posted into the new Siemens clinical system, but doctors are not electronically notified of the results.

“There’s not a single part of the hospital — inpatient, outpatient, ER — that has fully functional (electronic health records),” said the doctor, who asked that her name not be used because of job security concerns.
Other employees said the problems are improving as the hospital works through the bugs. Electronic record system mishaps have plagued hospitals around the country in recent years, especially those such as Alameda Health System that waited for the federal incentive deadlines to invest in modern records-sharing technology.”

While the Contra Costa Times points out the issues with the EHRs, the San Francisco Businesses Times paints a slightly different picture.