Adding Insult To Injury, Sutter’s Epic EMR Crashes For A Day

The Epic EMR at Northern California’s Sutter Health crashed earlier this week, leaving the system inaccessible for an entire day, reports Healthcare IT News. The system, which cost Sutter nearly $1 billion, went offline at approximately 8AM, locking out doctors, nurses and staff from accessing vital information such as medical lists and patient histories.

The crash followed a few days after planned downtime of eight hours which was scheduled to take place due to implement an upgrade.  During that period nurses could still read med orders and patient histories but had to record new data on paper and re-enter it later into the system, Healthcare IT News notes.

During the unplanned outage this week, the Epic system was offline at several Sutter locations, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Eden Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Hospital, Sutter Delta, Sutter Tracy, Sutter Modesto along with several affiliated clinics, the magazine said.

The outage drew the ire of the California Nurses Association, which called this incident “especially worrisome.” But the CNA notes that the crash is hardly the first time there’s been a concern over the Epic rollout. Nurses at Sutter have been complaining for months about alleged safety problems with the Epic system, notes the Sacramento Business Journal.

According to the CNA, more than 100 nurses had previously filed complaints at Alta Bates Summit, arguing that the Epic system was hard to use, and that computer-related delays had adversely affected the ability of nurses to monitor patients properly.

Sutter nurses’ complaints included the following:

• 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.

Sutter officials, for their part, are not having any of it. Hospital spokeswomen Carolyn Kemp called the allegations that Epic was causing problems “shameful,” and argued that the accusations are arising because the hospital system is involved in a labor dispute with the CNA.

Meanwhile, Sutter execs are turning up the heat on nurses whom they feel aren’t using the EMR properly. According to Healthcare IT News, leaders have been scolding nurses whom they believe have not been entering all billable services into the EMR, which resulted in a loss of $6,000 in a single week, according to a July memo obtained by HIN.

Sutter’s spokesperson, Bill Gleeson, offered this official response:

Sutter Health undertook a long-planned, routine upgrade of its electronic health record over the weekend. There’s a certain amount of scheduled downtime associated with these upgrades, and the process was successfully completed. On Monday morning, we experienced an issue with the software that manages user access to the EHR. This caused intermittent access challenges in some locations. Our team applied a software patch Monday night to resolve the issue and restore access. Our caregivers and office staff have established and comprehensive processes that they follow when the EHR is offline. They followed these procedures. Patient records were always secure and intact. Prior to Monday’s temporary access issue, our uptime percentage was an impressive 99.4 percent with these systems that operate 24/7. We appreciate the hard work of our caregivers and support staff to follow our routine back-up processes, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused patients. California Nurse Union continues to oppose the use of information technology in health care but we and other health care provider organizations demonstrate daily that it can be used to improve patient care, convenience and access. While it’s unfortunate the union exploited and misrepresented this situation, it comes as no surprise given the fact that we are in a protracted labor dispute with CNA.

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 don’t know what happened here, and I’m well aware that labor disputes can be a problem with EHR implementations, but if I were in this community, using this hospital system, I’d be scared far more about management then the nurses. If even a small part of what the nurses point out is true, then there are serious signs of an implementation that was way less then ideal. And for management to minimize the impact of what appears to be a substantial outage the way it is, makes you wonder if any of them were actually around when it happened. If I were in management, I’d be saying that we take these concerns seriously and would work with the nurses to make sure they are all handled. But hey, I forget myself; it’s really just a labor dispute… Oh, except that we keep hearing about badly done implementations.

  • To an extent, EMR is now like the FAA and ATC.

    Government run, real-time, can’t go down, lives are at stake, legacy systems in place, out-moded, labor disputes, dot, dot, dot.

    Good luck to all, we are all going to need it. 🙂

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