L.A. County’s Main Hospital Has Computer Breakdown, Delays Ensue

AP Wire Service

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A new computer system at the county’s main public hospital failed last week, causing substantial delays of urgent blood-test results for patients that forced officials to turn away ambulances.

The laboratory computer system became overloaded shortly after it was started Tuesday at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Hospital officials said the backlog of blood-test results was severe enough that by Wednesday morning, emergency room doctors told the county to stop sending ambulances there for several hours. The measure was repeated again Thursday.

No deaths or serious injuries resulted from the computer breakdown.

Doctors said the delayed results of the blood tests needed to confirm serious conditions such as heart attacks and kidney failure forced them to make treatment decisions based on educated guesses and experience.

“It’s almost like practicing Third World medicine,” said Dr. Amanda Garner, a second-year resident in the emergency room. “We rely so much on our computers and our fast-world technology that we were almost blinded.”

Hospital officials said it appears that most of the computer-related problems subsided after Thursday and that no one was hurt by the delays.

“I don’t mean to minimize all the stress,” said Dr. David Altman, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “The fact is that, at least as of this morning, we’re not able to discern any specific cases where patients were harmed other than significant inconvenience.”

Hospital officials acknowledged Monday that about 100 chemotherapy patients received their weekly treatment up to one day late because essential blood tests were not processed.

Doctors were forced to keep patients in-house for hours or days longer than needed because they couldn’t access lab tests that would show they were OK to go home.

The computer system apparently became overloaded once it was activated and a technical glitch kept it from communicating with the machine that processed tests. Lab technicians also struggled to solve problems with the system when it froze.

Urgent lab tests were delayed up to three hours and regular lab tests took even longer to process, Altman said. There were about 760 patients in the hospital Tuesday and Wednesday.

The county Department of Health Services expects to spend $22.1 million to install the lab computer system at all five of the county’s acute-care hospitals. The system is already in place at another hospital, where implementation was less problematic.