California Nurses Slam Sutter’s Epic System

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.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • I know it is difficult learning a new system, but, the majority of these complaints are human based. A computer doesn’t do a lab test, discrepancies between two systems occur from the information entered into them, patient information missing from the software ( was it entered?),RN fatigue and inadequate training and orientation. None of these examples are due to the EHR. Hospital leadership needs to step in and ensure that staff are well trained and provide extra support during this time. This could mean a DON on the floor instead of in the office and an extra CNA and/or float nurse to ensure that staff nurses are supported and patient care does not suffer.

  • I agree with Susan – much of what is listed is human-based, BUT, since s record of work done needs to be entered into the EMR and the arrival of such data typically engages processing that influences future interventions, it’s important that nurses be able to own and manage their own workflows as opposed to having software tell them what they should be doing next.

    Once you get to this stage complaints regarding procedure and the amount of data needed go away. The procedure fits 1:1 with the way people like to work at a facility and the amount of data collected is a reasonable balance between what is needed for here-and-now individual patient care and what is needed for long-term outcomes assessment analyses.

    Most of the difficulties with EMRs, in my experience, occur when software takes a cookie-cutter approach to the delivery of healthcare services.

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