NYC Epic Rollout Faces Patient Safety Questions

Posted on March 30, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In the summer of last year, we laid out for you the story of how a municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR installation had gone dramatically south since its inception. We told you how the New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. was struggling to cope with problems arising from its attempt to implement Epic at its 11 hospitals, four long-term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

At the time of last writing, the project budget had exploded upward from $302 million to $764 million, and the public chain’s CTO, CIO, CIO interim deputy and project head of training had been given the axe. In the unlikely event that you thought things would settle down at that point, we bring you news of further strife and bloodshed.

Apparently, a senior clinical information officer with the chain’s Elmhurst and Queens Hospital Centers has now made allegations that the way the Epic install was proceeding might pose danger to patients. A New York Post article reports that in a letter to colleagues, outgoing HHC official Charles Perry, M.D. compared the EMR implementation process to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

In his letter, Dr. Perry apparently argued that the project must be delayed. According to the Post, he quoted from a presidential panel report on the disaster: “[For] a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” Another Post article cited anonymous “insider” sources claiming that the system will crash, as the implementation is being rushed, and that the situation could lead to patient harm.

For its part, HHC has minimized the issue. A spokesperson told FierceHealthIT that Perry was associate executive director of the Elmhurst hospital and liason to the Queens Epic project, rather than being CMIO as identified by the Post. (Further intrigue?) Also, the spokesperson told FHIT that “if a patient safety issue is identified, the project will stop until it is addressed.”

Of course, the only people who truly know what’s happening with the HHC Epic implementation are not willing to go public with their allegations, so I’d argue that were obligated to take Perry’s statements with at least a grain of salt. In fact, I’d suggest that most large commercial Epic installations (and other large EHR implementations for that matter) got the scrutiny this public hospital system gets, they’d probably look pretty bad too.

On the other hand, it’s fair to say that HHC seems to crammed enough scandal into the first few years of its Epic rollout for the entire 15-year project. For the sake of the millions of people HHC serves, let’s hope that either there is not much to these critiques — or that HHC slows down enough to do the project justice.