International alert issued after HSE computer glitch

Canadian company warns customers worldwide about patient scans problem

The fault discovered in the Health Service Executive’s computer systems has become an international issue after the manufacturer issued a worldwide safety notice about the problem.

MicKesson Medical Imaging, the Canadian company that installed the system for storing patient scans in which a serious flaw has been discovered, issued the notice to customers last night.

McKesson plans to contact customers who have a similar system to the one discovered last week in the HSE so it can implement changes to prevent the fault from occurring.

In the notice, seen by The Irish Times, the company admits "there is a potential for incorrect clinical decisions to be made if the "<" symbol has been omitted from reported clinical measurements.


It recommends customers review patients reports when making clincal decision by alternative means, including resorting to printed reports.

McKesson's parent company Change Healthcare, based in Nashville, Tennessee, told The Irish Times it was working "collaboratively" with the HSE to investigate and resolve the issue, which has affected 25,000 X-rays, ultrasounds and scans stored on the system since 2011.

The HSE said the system had been fixed for “all reporting going forward” at no cost to the executive.

Change Healthcare declined to answer questions about the cause of the problem, why it went undiscovered for six years and whether it accepts responsibility for it. Thousands of patients may need to have their medical treatment reassessed as a result of the flaw, caused by the omission of the “less than” symbol (<) from reports during the archiving process.

The National Integrated Medical Imaging System (Nimis) at the centre of the current controversy was installed by another US company, McKesson, from 2008 on. Earlier this year, McKesson merged with another company to create Change Healthcare.

Radiology reports

Radiologists said they were working with colleagues in the HSE to fully investigate the issue, which was first reported by The Irish Times on Wednesday. "It is important to note that the majority of radiology reports are viewed by clinicians and GPs either on paper or electronically within the Radiology Information System (RIS), and are not affected by the symbol issue," said Prof Max Ryan, dean of the faculty of radiologists of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. "The issue identified is not related to human error or a mistake by a radiologist."

It emerged on Thursday that the HSE’s IT chief is leaving his job after less than three years. The HSE said Richard Corbridge’s resignation from the post of chief information officer had nothing to do with the flaw uncovered in its computer systems over the past week.

Mr Corbridge is returning with his family to the UK to take up a post in the National Health Service in Leeds. The HSE has struggled to convince the Government to release the €1 billion it says it needs to upgrade IT systems in the health service over the next decade.

The HSE is working to establish what effect the error had on patient outcomes in 2,500 of the affected scans. It says it will widen the investigation to cover more affected scans if it turns out that large numbers of patients were affected.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said the HSE's first priority in response to the software glitch must be the patients affected.

He said he was very concerned people may suffer adverse health consequences from being given treatment that they did not need. This needed to be investigated. “It’s important that we aren’t alarmist about this situation,” he added. “People are rightly worried and they want answers.”

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients’ Association called on the HSE to ensure GPs are fully informed on the cases of patients who may have had their medical tests misidentified. “It was shocking news to find out that so many patients were affected by a bug in the system.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times