Y2K: a matter of life and death

Y2K has become literally a matter of life or death. Clinical equipment in some hospitals will fail on January 1, 2000 if it is not fixed or replaced.

Y2K has become literally a matter of life or death. Clinical equipment in some hospitals will fail on January 1, 2000 if it is not fixed or replaced.

“We’ve looked at six patient-controlled intravenous pumps and four weren’t compliant,” says André Snoxall, manager of information systems at Taranaki Healthcare. “Two of these would have allowed the patient to double-dose if one dose were applied before midnight and one after. The other two do the same, and then they stop working altogether.” Alarmingly, Snoxall says they still have eight more pumps to check. “We expect half of them fail as well.” But the most disturbing aspect of this discovery is that Snoxall has a written statement from the manufacturer assuring him of the devices’ compliance.

“You’ve got to test. You can’t take anybody’s word for it. Once you know, then it’s not an issue — you can replace it or put in a procedure in to deal with it, or whatever.” Taranaki Healthcare has completed a full inventory of anything that might have an embedded system in it and has employed electrical engineers to test all the equipment they can.

“Every piece of equipment that has a risk to patient safety is being specifically targeted first up and if we can’t prove anything one way or another, it just won’t be used.”

Snoxall says he is concerned about the infrastructure working on the day itself.

“Electricity, water, waste disposal — we don’t have a high level of confidence in any of those things.” Snoxall has to consider the effect an outage would have on everyone at a hospital, from the part-time cleaner through to those people on life-support systems. Taranaki Healthcare does, of course, have a number of back-up generators, but there are pitfalls to avoid even there.

“We ran them for a full day to test them under load and discovered that they stopped running after three hours. They had an automatic cut-out built in.” Without testing, Snoxall says they would have relied on the generators for power and that could have been disastrous. Now, Snoxall says, they are debating whether or not to hire back-up generators for the back-up generators.

If supply chain compliance is giving you a headache, spare a thought for Snoxall and his peers.

“What happens if traffic patterns get disrupted so badly that ambulances can’t get through streets? What are we doing about making sure our helicopter can fly?” Snoxall says he doesn’t intend relying on larger hospitals in main centres, like Auckland or Wellington.

“Their problems are going to be 10 times as bad as ours.”

Jim Hight, Y2K programme manager for Auckland Health-care, hopes that won’t be the case. Hight looks after the Y2K project for four of the country’s largest hospitals — Greenlane, National Women’s, Auckland and Starship Children’s. He says Auckland and Starship hospitals have already had a taste of disaster planning and are well equipped to deal with Y2K.

“When the Auckland CBD power went off, these hospitals were caught up in the whole thing.”

By using the power crisis as a dry run, Hight believes the Auckland hospitals should be able to cope well with any infra-structural problems that may arise because of Y2K.

“We have generators that automatically kick in for essential areas and we’re looking at extra generators for the remainder. We have water bores already in place.”

Hight says he will be contacting 100 key suppliers in the next month to determine their levels of compliance so he can work out alternative strategies should one or more fail to deliver.

If there’s one piece of advice that Snoxall would give Y2K managers around the country it’s this:

“Sort out a business plan and a disaster recovery plan. They both help you to know your business better, and that can’t be a bad thing.”

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