At least 25,000 HSE patients could face rechecks after major IT glitch

3 Aug 2017

Close-up of a CT scan. Image: Chaikom/Shutterstock

Since 2011, at least 25,000 patients who got scans in HSE hospitals received inaccurate results due to a major IT flaw.

The Health Service Executive’s (HSE) IT systems may be seriously flawed after it was found that a bug led to thousands of patients across the country potentially receiving unnecessary treatment.

According to The Irish Times, since 2011, at least 25,000 patients who received scans were affected by the IT error that led to faulty information being attributed to their files.

Future Human

Scans of patients – ranging from x-rays to CT – are stored digitally in the HSE’s National Integrated Medical Imaging System, but a recently discovered bug in the system could not identify when a ‘less than’ symbol (<) was entered.

This could lead to serious misinformation and confusion as, while a patient might have less than a certain percentage in their scan results, the system would show them as having exactly that percentage, so <70pc would appear as 70pc.

The HSE said that the true extent of how patients have been affected remains unknown as yet, but it has started a major investigation into how exactly the IT system flaw came about.

A preliminary investigation found that the ‘less than’ glitch remains the only known keyboard error in the HSE’s systems.

The oversight was spotted by a radiologist on 28 July working on a case file who reported it to the HSE chain of command and, since then, no data has been inputted on the system with the bug.

‘Quality of radiology is not affected’

Despite the oversight, the HSE’s national clinical adviser for acute hospitals, Dr Colm Henry, allayed fears of any potential major harm caused to patients as a result of the glitch.

“The quality of radiology is not affected. In addition, clinical decisions on a patient are rarely based nowadays on a written report or single x-ray alone,” Henry said.

“For important decisions, doctors looking at reports will usually verify by other means, usually by looking at the scans themselves.”

If this new investigation finds that patients’ health was put at risk because of the glitch, a more comprehensive review will need to be undertaken, the HSE said.

Speaking to earlier this year, HSE CIO Richard Corbridge described the digital health infrastructure as “excessively complex”.

“Digital in health, until recently, was never planned or designed – it evolved as part of the organisational structure,” he said at the time.

“We have pushed hard to remove the technology from the physical boundaries of Ireland’s health system and, with this in itself, we start to remove the complexity significantly.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic