New report slams hospital care

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Patients get lost in the system, aren’t called in for important check-ups, face treatment delays and don’t get the information they need about their condition. These are some of the conclusions in a scathing new report on hospitals in southeastern Norway.

Norway's national hospital, Rikshospitalet in Oslo, wasn't among the four hospitals studied but has also been under reorganization pressure and a target of patient complaints. PHOTO: Views and News

The report, conducted by auditors for Helse Sør-Øst, the state administrative agency in charge of hospitals in the southeast, studied four major hospitals in the area but even Helse Sør-Øst’s management believes the same alarming conclusions can apply to the rest of the region’s hospitals, also for hospitals in the rest of the country. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on its contents Thursday.

The main problem is tied to weaknesses in the hospitals’ information technology systems that are supposed to keep track of patient journals and ensure patient treatment. But breakdowns in the computer systems, along with human error in using them, lead to “serious” problems “that people can die from,” Lars Hanssen of the state regulatory agency Statens helsetilyn told Aftenposten. Patient care faces too many risks from the problems with reliable data systems, he said.

“Breakdowns in the system mean that patients don’t get the appointments they need, but also that doctors don’t always get the test results they need, or that they mistakenly cross off the wrong box that they have received a patient’s test results,” Hanssen said. “The system doesn’t show, for example, whether referrals have been evaluated or whether they’ve been made. When documentation or referrals aren’t registered, it’s serious.”

Complaints from alert patients or their families have risen, and the report to Helse Sør-Øst illustrates a situation that carries risk “both for the treatment of patients, for the hospitals’ compliance with health regulations and guarantees, and for the reliability of patient records.” Systems that are supposed to ensure that patients get the care they need at the right time “in many cases don’t function,” according to the report.

It will be taken up at a Helse Sør-Øst board meeting next week, and director Bente Mikkelsen claims she’s glad the weaknesses in hospital systems have been revealed. So is the political leadership in the Healthy Ministry, according to state secretary Robin Kåss of the Labour Party.

Kåss claimed the government, already under fire for hospital reorganizations and closures that have riled doctors and patients alike, takes the challenges posed by poor computer systems seriously. “But I’m glad the weaknesses have been revealed so we can address the problems,” Kåss said.

Mikkelsen said she has no intention of stepping down. “We have a huge challenge here, the errors and deficiencies are widespread,” she told Aftenposten. Securing new routines and training programs, so patents can feel secure, has the highest priority.”

She said patients must also speak up if they don’t get called in for exams as they should, or if deadlines for their treatment aren’t met. Asked whether patients can feel secure if they need to follow up their treatment themselves, Mikkelsen claimed the problems aren’t new. Waiting lists have existed for a long time, and patients have been overlooked. Now, however,  the report has revealed the scope of the problems, which will be addressed.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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