Switch From Epic To Cerner Comes With Patient Safety Questions

Posted on July 25, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Here’s a story in which no health system hopes to take a lead role — the tale of a Cerner installation that didn’t go well and the blowback the system faced afterward.

On October 1 of last year, Phoenix, Az.-based Banner Health switched its Tucson hospitals from Epic to a Cerner system, a move which reportedly cost the health system $45 million.

No doubt, the hospitals’ staff and physicians were trained up and prepared for a few bumps in the road, particularly given that the rest of its peers had already gone to the process. The Phoenix-based not-for-profit, which owns, leases or manages 28 acute-care hospitals in six states, had already put the Cerner system in place elsewhere, apparently without experiencing any major problems.

But this time it wasn’t so lucky, according to an article in the Arizona Daily Star. According to the news item, there were “numerous” reports of medical errors filed with the Arizona Department of Health Services after Tucson-area hospitals in the Banner chain were cut over to Cerner.

The complaints included claims that errors were creating patient safety and patient harm risks, according to one filing. “Many of the staff are in tears and frustrated because of the lack of support and empathy [for] the consequences [to] patient care,” one stated.

Not only did the conversion lead to patient safety accusations, it also seems to have lowered physician productivity and shrunk revenue as doctors learned to use the Cerner interface. While predictable, this has to have added insult to injury.

Meanwhile, according to the paper, the state seems to come down on the side of the complainants. While hospital leaders denied there were any incidents resulting in a negative outcome for patients, “the hospital’s occurrence log for October 2017 showed numerous incidents of medical errors reported to be a result of the conversion,” state investigators reportedly concluded.

While the state didn’t fine Banner or issue a citation, it did substantiate two allegations about the conversion, the Star reported. The allegations were related to computer/printer glitches impacting patient care and an inability to reliably deliver medications and order tests as part of care for critically ill patients.

The article says that Banner responded by pointing out that it has made more than 100 improvements to the Cerner system, resulting in better workflows and greater information access for physicians and staff. But the damage to its reputation seems to have been done.

No, perhaps Banner didn’t do anything particularly wrong when it installed the Cerner platform. However, if its leaders did, in fact, lie to the state about problems it actually had, it was not a smart move. On the other hand, one of the biggest problems you can have during an EHR implementation is users who don’t want to cooperate and make it a success. It’s not hard to see users who were happy with Epic dragging their feet as they shifted to Cerner. Either way, this is an important lesson as hospitals continue to consolidate and they consider switching the EHR of the acquired hospitals.