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Calgary Health Region suffers lab system snafu

CALGARY – A computer glitch, reported earlier this month, resulted in the mix-up of 2,000 lab results at the Calgary Health Region. The tests were taken during the previous two-month period in the region.

Regional officials said  the problem occurred as a result of errors in a lab system upgrade. Calgary Health Region scrambled to reach 378 healthcare providers that had accessed the lab database since it underwent the software upgrades in May.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper, the problem was brought to Calgary Health’s attention when two physicians noticed a discrepancy between the hard copies of the lab results sent to them from Calgary Lab Services and the ones they accessed on-line.

The on-line database was immediately shut down and remained so until the source of the error could be fixed.

Dr. Chris Eagle, chief medical officer for Calgary Health, said he believes there has not been a breach of privacy, because the proper names were not affixed to lab results.

“While there is an accuracy issue, there isn’t a privacy issue,” Dr. Eagle told the Globe.

The on-line database is “not anywhere near the mainstream way of how we deliver healthcare data in the province,” he said.

Physicians normally use the lab results sent to them directly by mail, fax and e-mail. Results delivered directly to physicians and hospitals were not affected by the error.

The on-line database is most often used when a doctor gets a new patient and needs to see what tests have been administered that are too recent to be in their medical history, Dr. Eagle said.

Nevertheless, doctors are more inclined to base their diagnoses on the hard copies of lab results for legal reasons, he added.

Dr. Eagle said he was a little concerned that the glitch might blacken the image of electronic medical databases, but said that such databases are important to the field. “I am a little concerned, but we have to recognize that these systems are devised and designed by humans,” he said, which means they are prone to human error.

The erroneous lab tests were taken for everything from annual physicals and pregnancy tests to HIV tests, Calgary Health said.