Fax glitch results in DI reporting
CALGARY – Problems with fax
software at Calgary hospitals may have delayed the transmission of up to
40,000 radiology reports, such as mammogram results, to referring
physicians last year.
The Calgary Health Region revealed in January that problems with
software responsible for faxing radiology results began in May 2007 and
continued until late July, when the region notified nearly 2,000
physicians about the delayed reports.
The health authority said it’s possible patients were adversely
impacted, although they didn’t know of any cases, according to a report
in the Calgary Herald.
Physicians said the worst-case scenario would be a delayed diagnosis of
a disease such as cancer, where timely treatment might stop the illness
“It’s one of those technical glitches that occurs in a system and it’s
really unfortunate because it has the potential to impact patient care,”
CHR spokesman Mark Kastner said in an interview with the Calgary
Kastner said any patients whose reports may have been delayed would have
since received the correct information from their physician, noting
doctors’ offices have now had the reports for several months.
Opposition parties called the situation a “mess,” adding the CHR should
have announced the problem last summer.
“There may have been a lot of people delayed in getting treatment for
cancer and other life-threatening issues,” said Laurie Blakeman, the
Alberta Liberals’ health critic. “People were probably failed.”
The CHR’s fax problems come more than two years after another computer
glitch at the health body, where physicians viewed incorrect lab test
results for 2,000 Calgarians during a two-month period. No patients were
harmed during that mix-up.
In this latest instance, the fax problem related to radiology reports
from imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans, which are performed to
help doctors diagnose a wide range of conditions. CHR officials say a
configuration problem with the software responsible for faxing radiology
results from its hospitals and clinics to doctors offices likely began
Doctors offices that receive radiology reports by mail or courier were
In June, the CHR noticed it was receiving an unusual number of calls
from physicians saying they didn’t receive faxed results from radiology
It wasn’t until July 20 that the CHR identified the problem and sent a
letter explaining the issue to the 1,750 Calgary doctors who had opted
for faxed radiology reports. CHR then re-faxed the reports to
The region’s diagnostic imaging department, however, later became
concerned that they may not have sent all the radiology reports to all
physicians’ offices. Finally, in September, the CHR faxed out 40,000
radiology reports to Calgary physicians as a precaution, sending results
from all radiology exams done during that period, although it isn’t
clear how many of those didn’t make it to doctors’ offices.
The health authority said it has fixed the computer problem and is still
reviewing its response to the situation.
Dr. Linda Slocombe, a family physician and incoming president of the
Calgary and Area Physicians’ Association, said most physicians would
notice if they didn’t receive an expected radiology report for a patient
and request the document again. But she said the delayed reports were a
risk for patients.
“The potential harm is the delay in getting the information,” she said.
The Liberals’ Blakeman also questioned why it took the CHR until July 20
to notify physicians when they first realized there might be a problem
in June. “It took them an awful long time to get into gear and address
it,” said Blakeman.
The computer problems also come as Alberta develops an electronic health
record for every person in the province. While health-care providers say
electronic records will help patient care in many ways, they say the CHR
radiology issue also shows the potential for problems.
“It’s one of the risks with electronic systems,” said Slocombe. “When
things go wrong, they really go wrong.”
However, recently smarter technologies have emerged that are able to use
a variety of methods to send reports to doctors. If fax is selected as
the reporting method of choice, and the transmission fails, the system
can automatically switch over to an automated phone call.
Moreover, these systems can require an acknowledgement from the
referring physician in urgent cases, thereby ensuring a doctor is aware
of results that may need swift action – such as tumour or aneurysm. If
the acknowledgement doesn’t occur in a predetermined amount of time, an
alert will go out to another physician.
Solutions of this sort are now being introduced to market by firms such
as Dictaphone and Agfa.