Seeing right through an X-ray data loss debacle

Losing data in cyberspace may be an everyday event, but when it is a hospital that is involved, can such an error be swept under the carpet?

That’s exactly the question hospital staff at Pierre-Le-Gardeur are facing as they try to figure out how 14,000 patient X-ray reports went missing over

the past year. A “”computer glitch”” is being blamed for the mishap, but the human element is being examined in light of possible law suits.

“”Knowing the truth is going to be very difficult,”” said Normand Laberge, chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Radiologists. “”Everybody’s going to want to protect themselves.””

At the newly built hospital in Lachenaie, near Montreal, results of mammograms, MRIs and CT scans are stored digitally, printed and mailed to physicians. But between January and December 2004, 14,000 reports were never printed out or sent to physicians. “”In terms of real results, 800 to 900 were positive,”” said Laberge. In one case, there was a six-month delay in a cancer diagnosis, he said, and a law suit will likely occur from that.

The hospital tried to downplay the incident, saying that 85 per cent of the reports were negative and didn’t need to be sent to physicians. “”You’re dealing with life here – an 85 per cent passing grade doesn’t cut it,”” said Laberge. “”If the tests were not important, then why the hell were they issued?””

A spokesperson for Pierre-Le-Gardeur, Frederique Laurier, said the hospital is dealing with its IT issues and that it is to soon to comment further on the incident.

It was a patient that wouldn’t take no for an answer that finally set alarm bells off at the hospital, after she demanded to see the results of her examination, first from her physician, then the hospital. An investigation revealed that her report was not the only one that had disappeared into cyberspace.

“”I think everybody will be shifting the blame,”” said Laberge. And that blame might shift to the IT industry. But he said this is taking the easy way out. “”You can’t blame the IT company for the end result (of the report) not reaching the patient.””

Other issues being raised are: hospital staff didn’t double-check the computer’s work, physicians didn’t follow up with the hospital and ask for results that didn’t arrive automatically, and patients didn’t follow up with their physicians. “”IT does not erase people, does not reduce workload,”” he said. “”It’s not the magic bullet to everything.”” By having a computer around, some people assume they don’t have to check anything, said Laberge. “”This is exactly what happened at Pierre-Le-Gardeur,”” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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