RealTime IT News

Dell Inks Pact with Nation's Largest HMO

Dell Computer was tapped this week with the formidable task of providing thousands of desktop and laptop computers to Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente.

The three-year agreement between the computer maker and the nation's largest non-profit health maintenance organization will provide an estimated 95,000 Dell OptiPlex desktop computers and 11,000 notebook computers to Kaiser's extensive roster of nationwide medical offices and medical centers.

Kaiser's umbrella of medical organizations include Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, their subsidiaries, and the Permanente Medical Groups, which consists of independent physicians that hold medical contracts with Kaiser and its health plan subsidiaries.

According to Dell spokesperson Dean Kline, the Dell hardware provisions will include software applications specifically chosen by Kaiser and the support service associated those products.

"As well as a suite of other services to help them deploy the products and get them into the hands of their end users," said Kline.

The 55-year-old healthcare provider's move toward updating its computer systems comes on the heels of a company-wide transition from a paper-based medical record system to a cyber-based Automated Medical Records (AMR) platform.

In February of this year Kaiser launched a $1.8 billion dollar effort to shift millions of its patient's medical records online, enabling health care staff to access up-to-the-minute medical records, including test results.

The AMR platform, which has not yet been implemented, would also enable patients to schedule appointments online and request medication refills and referrals.

All medical information would be inaccessible to outside researchers or employers, the HMO announced.

Although the road to technological innovation backfired on Kaiser last week when a power outage caused errors and mislabeling in some of the prescriptions dispensed to 4,700 patients in Northern California.

During what Kaiser officials reported as a six-hour computer glitch, thousands of prescriptions were dispensed with either the wrong medicine or incorrect dosage instructions.

Kaiser said that no injuries have yet been reported, but to preempt any catastrophes it took a widespread effort on behalf of pharmacist and nurses to contact each of those patients with mislabeled prescriptions.

According to a spokesperson for Kaiser's news bureau, the glitch was the result of a dip in the commercial power source at its Southern California data center. At the moment of the power dip, Kaiser was testing its Northern California back-up system.

However, the system affected by the glitch was Kaiser's prescription database and was not related in any way to Kaiser's AMR platform, the spokesperson said, calling the incident a "fluke."

Prescriptions dispensed in Southern California or other parts of the U.S. were not affected.

Kaiser reported Monday that the error rate among those 4,700 incorrect prescriptions was thought to be extremely low, although the reminder looms large that with technological advancement comes the ever-present potential for malfunction, especially when it comes to putting sensitive medical information online.

Three years ago Kaiser experienced another radical computer glitch that caused a flurry of confidential e-mail messages about some of its members to be sent to the wrong addresses.

The error was realized twenty minutes after the fact and the system was shut down

According to reports, the majority of the misdirected e-mails contained fairly mundane information, such as information about appointments, but some of them contained more sensitive information regarding patient's medical status and patient identification numbers.

Kaiser was quick to correct the error by individually contacting e-mail recipients and patients whose personal identification information had been exposed to the wrong individuals.