California Nurses Slam Sutter’s Epic System

Posted on July 17, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of 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. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Nurses at two Sutter hospitals have flooded the management with complaints that the Epic EMR installed there is causing safety problems and eating up time best spent in patient care.

According to a statement from the California Nurses Association, more than 100 RNs at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Oakland and Berkeley have filed reports citing problems with the new Epic system in place there.  The nurses submitted these complaints on union forms designed to document assignments the nurses believe to be unsafe.

Specific incidents documented by the nurses included the following. (Apologies for the length of the list, but it’s worth seeing.)

• A patient who had to be transferred to the intensive care unit due to delays in care caused by the computer.
• A nurse who was not able to obtain needed blood for an emergent medical emergency.
• Insulin orders set erroneously by the software.
• Missed orders for lab tests for newborn babies and an inability for RNs to spend time teaching new mothers how to properly breast feed babies before patient discharge.
• Lab tests not done in a timely manner.
• Frequent short staffing caused by time RNs have to spend with the computers.
• Orders incorrectly entered by physicians requiring the RNs to track down the physician before tests can be done or medication ordered.
• Discrepancies between the Epic computers and the computers that dispense medications causing errors with medication labels and delays in administering medications.
• Patient information, including vital signs, missing in the computer software.
• An inability to accurately chart specific patient needs or conditions because of pre-determined responses by the computer software.
• Multiple problems with RN fatigue because of time required by the computers and an inability to take rest breaks as a result.
• Inadequate RN training and orientation.

This is not the first time nurses have gone on the warpath over issues with their hospital’s EMR rollout. Just last month, RNs at Affinity Medical Center in Massillon, OH got national attention when they cited problems in training and safety with the Cerner rollout in progress there.

Taken on their own, I don’t think such protests are going to much to slow the progress of EMR rollouts nationwide, even if the nurses involved are spot on in their observations.  Once the EMR juggernaut starts rolling, it’s very, very hard to slow it down.

But with any luck, the complaints will draw the eyes of regulators and patients to EMR safety and training concerns, and that will lead to some form of change. The issues raised by the Sutter RNs and others shouldn’t (and can’t) be pushed aside indefinitely.