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Saturday, July 1, 2000 VA Hospital Computer Fumbles By John J. Lumpkin Journal Staff Writer The VA Medical Center in Albuquerque has stopped using a new computer system that tracks medication after nurses and pharmacists complained patients weren't receiving the right medicines.
Hospital officials believe no veteran under their care has been injured by improper medication or dosages as a result of the computer problems. But a spokesman said there have been several cases of people not receiving enough of a medicine at the proper time. The $491,000 computer system uses bar codes that a patient wears on a wristband. Nurses swipe the bar code to find out what medication a patient should receive. But the information is frequently in error or out of date, said Susan Brooks, the president of the nurse's union. The problem extends to IV fluids, as well, she said. "We have suspended it because we're concerned we're not quite ready," said Michael Kleiman, spokesman for the hospital. "Like any new technology there's always bugs to be worked out." But Brooks said nurses have been raising concerns about the system since April, when it was first brought on-line, but hospital managers decided to turn it off only after the union said it would go public with its complaints.
"We have been telling the (VA) that this system is unsafe and could lead to irreparable harm to a patient," Brooks said during a brief picket at the hospital gate Friday morning. "We're concerned about the veterans. We wanted it stopped." Kleiman said Friday that managers scaled back plans for the computer system in early June, after problems became apparent. He also said that Chief Medical Officer Barbara Chang took the entire system off-line Wednesday after meeting with Brooks and other hospital staff members earlier this week.
The problem lies with the new bar-code software not getting along with some existing software at the hospital, Kleiman said. Nurses will manually handle medication while the bar-code system is repaired, he said. Brooks also said a shortage of nurses at the hospital has contributed to the problem because they are so overworked that they haven't had time to learn the new system. The hospital has enough funds for 426 registered nurses and 59 licensed nurse practitioners. But only 331 and 48 of those positions are filled, according to Kleiman.
Some of those positions were created this year and haven't been filled yet, but the nursing shortage has forced the temporary closure of some 62 beds at the hospital, leaving 155 in operation, he said. The shortage is because there are too few nurses in the community, and all hospitals are facing similar difficulties in obtaining temporary nursing help, Kleiman said.
-- Martin Thom[pson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 01, 2000