Patient records mixed up by ageing computer system at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, warn doctors

3 December 2013 5:01 AM

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Patient records mixed up by ageing computer system at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, warn doctors

An ageing computer system is mixing up patients' records at an Adelaide hospital, doctors have warned.

Medical staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) at Woodville are worried the safety of patients is at risk and a death is inevitable.

In a memo obtained by the ABC, doctors have written to SA Health's chief executive to warn about the dangers.

In part it says: "There are concerns that the increasing nature of system failure is leading to a reduction in the quality of patient care and that inevitably there will be a patient death as a result".

Examples are outlined, including a patient's ultrasound file displaying the wrong images, an error picked up by a vigilant radiologist.

Doctors say some critical information about patients is being lost and the system often is down for more than two days per month.

A radiologist at the QEH, Dr Ruben Sebben, says the computers are an ad hoc system built up from various pieces of software patched together over at least six years.

"Some of the software we're using was actually illegal. It was actually 'not paid for' software," he said.

"We had no choice, essentially that's what it had come down to and it's probably been like that for the last six or seven years despite repeated requests to actually upgrade the system."

Dr Sebben warns it could lead to wrong details being recorded or wrong treatments being administered.

"I personally know of two cases this week, including one yesterday, where a colleague of mine dictated a report on a patient that I had already reported over, and the same situation occurred last week," he said.

"We're actually relying on our typists to pick up the fact that there's a mismatch between the report and the patient's clinical details."

Doctors have warned a second Adelaide hospital, the Lyell McEwin Health Service in the northern suburbs, is using the same ageing system, the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS).

They say PACS was installed in 2001 at the QEH and its replacement had now been sought for five years, due to ongoing failures.

They say annual maintenance costs for the ageing system are about $420,000, more than three times those of another being used at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide's south.

SA Health says the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital will be the first to get a computer system upgrade and it is hoping an upgrade at the QEH will be delivered about the middle of next year.


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