MILLENNIUM BUG: Hospitals Face Expensive Task
Some experts estimate that trouble-shooting software problems associated with the Year 2000 could cost the U.S. health care system up to $20 billion. And California hospitals are not immune, the Los Angeles Times reports: "For individual hospitals, the millennial challenge is enormous. For large hospital systems," equipped with large quantities of vulnerable medical equipment, "the job of locating a weak link is a mind-numbing task." Marc Beauchesne, head of Y2K trouble- shooting for Cedars-Sinai Health System, said, "It's an enormous project -- much bigger than I expected." According to Beauchesne, fixing Cedars' Y2K problem will cost $5 million. Shelling out extra money is not easy for many health care players, the Times reports, especially at a time when managed care has placed tremendous cost-cutting pressure on hospitals. Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, CMO for Catholic Healthcare West, said the cost of fixing and replacing affected medical equipment will run his company $15 million. The Times reports that CHW has been "unusually aggressive" in tackling the problem, testing 92% of its equipment so far and finding only 3.3% with "millennial glitches." Kaiser Permanente is expected to spend more than $100 million nationally to trouble-shoot its Y2K bug. "I'm starting to wake up in the middle of the night," said LeeAnn Wrenn, director of Kaiser's millennial project, who estimated "that 15% of the organization's 135,000 pieces of medical equipment" have Y2K issues.
So Sue Me
The imminent technology problems are also causing hospitals and health systems to fear impending lawsuits that will question whether hospitals did everything they could to root out the problems. "Everybody is going to sue and be sued," consultant Joel Ackerman said at a recent conference on Y2K planning for hospitals. Los Angeles attorney James Kalyvas is recommending that come next year, hospitals have patients sign a waiver, "much like someone involved in a medical experiment." Meanwhile, hospitals are looking for creative ways to handle the problem. Newport Beach-based Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian next spring "will start drills for hospital employees on how to do their jobs, with or without technology" (Marsh, 11/23). Click here for past coverage of the health care industry's Y2K problem.