US hospital takes legal action against Cerner - why it matters to the NHS

Joel Schectman, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, has researched the case of a small hospital in Kansas that is blaming Cerner for the failure of an electronic medical records project.Cerner is one of the world's largest suppliers of...

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Joel Schectman, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, has researched the case of a small hospital in Kansas that is blaming Cerner for the failure of an electronic medical records project.

Cerner is one of the world's largest suppliers of e-record systems. In the UK Cerner is supplied by BT under the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]. It also supplies NHS trusts directly.

The Girard Medical Center is a small rural hospital that takes in mainly uninsured patients and the elderly. Its executives wanted an electronic medical record system to improve the sharing of information with its clinic offshoots and to claim federal incentives.

But, says the Wall Street Journal, Girard spent 18 months and more than $1m without being closer to having electronic medical records. It is blaming its supplier Cerner for the failure.

"Whether the fault for the failed project should rest on the big corporate vendor or the small hospital is unclear. But Girard’s story illustrates the risks for organisations of all kinds when they attempt to innovate by bringing in new, and unfamiliar, technologies and vendors," says the paper.

The hospital claims that instead of Cerner's “providing one throat to choke,” it provided “many products to buy,” Frankie Forbes, an attorney for Girard, told the paper.

According to papers filed by Girard in the District Court, Kansas City, Cerner raised its charges and left the project after Girard suspended payments. A spokeswoman for Cerner declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal and the case is in arbitration.

Holly Koch, the hospital’s chief financial officer told the paper that his staff kept running into things that were not included in the price. But, said the paper, Koch and other hospital officials also acknowledged that neither they nor the board had a complete understanding of the contract on which they signed off.

Koch told the paper that the contract was complex and difficult to understand. “We relied on them to explain to us what the contract represented.”

Girard Medical Center had filed various legal claims with the Kansas court arising out of a contract with Cerner Corporation for technology goods and services. Cerner sought an order for the case to go to arbitration, which the court granted.

It's likely that the arbitration will, among other matters, consider whether Girard had enough staff to help implement the Cerner systems. The Wall Street Journal reports that when Girard hired Cerner, the hospital had two IT staff members, neither with a specialty in electronic medical records.

Wall Street Journal report on Girard's legal action against Cerner

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