Georgia EMR Disaster: Was IT Department Responsible?

A few weeks ago, heads began to roll at Georgia’s Athens Regional Health System when its $31 million Cerner rollout began to fall apart. After clinicians complained that a rushed rollout process was generating a host of medication errors and other mistakes, President and CEO James Thaw resigned, and less than a week later, SVP and CIO Gretchen Tegethoff left as well.

Since then, however, the political landscape there has changed, with the facility’s chief medical officer, as well as Cerner executives, contending that the disaster was due to mistakes by the health systems IT team, according to HealthcareITNews. The Cerner execs, CMO and others are arguing that IT leaders made strategic decisions that should’ve been made by clinicians, the publication says.

A local paper, the Athens Banner Herald, notes that the Cerner rollout was done largely by the hospital’s IT team, and that few end-users were involved. That, at least, is what Cerner VP Michael Robin told the paper.  And a different Cerner VP, Ben Himes, took another shot at the IT department, arguing that this implementation seems to have come out on the IT side of things, rather than stressing clinical involvement.

The bottom line seems to be that regardless of what actually happened, the clinicians at the hospital seem to of felt left out of the process, never good thing when we’re dealing with a tool that they’ll need to use everyday.  Regardless of what actually happened, it seems the hospital’s IT department didn’t do a good job of engaging clinicians and getting their feedback; under those circumstances, the likelihood of kicked up a fuss even if implementation was otherwise smooth.

On the other hand, I’m always a little skeptical when vendors point fingers at their customers and say it was their fault when things go wrong. OK, I realize that there may be some truth to their accusations, and that Cerner has a right to defend itself, but it’s hardly a good PR move to dump problems with the implementation completely in the customer’s lap.

The truth is, will probably never know exactly what happened with this EMR implementation. Considering the scale of the project, and the number of people involved, it’s inevitable that this will go down in a blaze of finger-pointing. But it never hurts to be reminded that EMR implementations which leads physicians feeling as though they’re on the sidelines are politically risky at best, and potentially disastrous at worst.


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.