- An army veteran and his wife are suing the federal government and Oracle, alleging that errors in the technology giant’s new electronic health record system at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center delayed his cancer diagnosis.
- The suit, filed in Washington state, alleges that Charles Bourg’s cancer diagnosis was held up for months due to technical problems with the EHR system, allowing the cancer to metastasize and become terminal.
- EHR vendor Cerner — later acquired by tech giant Oracle for $28 billion — first won the contract to replace the VA’s aging system in 2018. But the rollout has been rocky and more expensive than planned, and some reports have found patient safety risks related to the new system.
The VA has delayed the EHR deployment multiple times, with only five of its medical centers implementing the new system. The VA put the rollout on hold again in April to prioritize improvements at the sites currently using the new EHR.
In May, the VA announced it had renegotiated its contract with Oracle, including stronger performance expectations and larger financial credits to the department if the company doesn’t meet requirements.
Though system reliability is improving with less downtime for users, leaders from the VA and the Department of Defense told legislators at a House subcommittee hearing last month that there’s work to be done, and the EHR is still performing below expectations.
Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois, is the next hospital scheduled to go live with the EHR in March.
Bourg’s lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Washington on Friday, alleged a routine test found elevated levels of prostate-specific antigen in his blood in early December 2020. A urologist placed a “return to clinic” order for a follow-up appointment, but the message was routed to the wrong queue — and a second order in April 2021 automatically modified an appointment date four months later than intended.
Bourg had an appointment in September 2021 at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October, according to the suit. But imaging conducted after a prostatectomy in early 2022 found the cancer had metastasized.
“Electronic health records are intended to make care efficient and accurate, passing information seamlessly between providers to give the best care,” said Mark Kamitomo, one of the attorneys representing Bourg, in a statement. “In this case, Charlie would have been better served if his doctor had sent the referral by handwritten letter.”
The suit cited several reports from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General that identified problems with the Oracle EHR rollout, including patient safety concerns.
One report from July 2021 found the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization’s training curriculum for the new system had “significant deficiencies.”
Another OIG publication from March 2022 noted other issues at the same hospital Bourg visited, including alerts that warned of patients at risk for suicide that failed to activate, data migration errors and delays in scheduling.
A third report from July 2022 found the new EHR sent thousands of orders to an undetectable location, resulting in 149 adverse events for patients.
A VA spokesperson told Healthcare Dive the department is “urgently working to improve the EHR system, and we will not rest until we ensure that it is helping us provide world-class health care that Veterans deserve.”
Oracle did not respond to a request for comment by press time.