Time for a check-up: Hospitals screening for Y2K bug
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The nation's largest health care organization is in the middle of preparing for the Y2K bug, a problem that has the potential to trip up computers in hospitals across the country.
Care centers like the intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, where George Preston, 74, recovers from a heart attack, are highly wired with computer-powered machines.
"This monitors his heart, his blood pressure, his oxygen saturation, and his respiratory rate," says nurse Marilyn Stanley, pointing to the tower of medical technology at George's bedside. "If this shuts down and he goes into attack or something like that I wouldn't know how to treat him, but I would treat him because I would have to guess what's going on with him."
In this one room, there are pumps regulating Preston's intake of fluids and medicine. There may also be a portable heart defibrillator or EKG monitor, each electronic, each embedded with computer chips that make them run properly, each a potential Y2K problem waiting to happen.
It seems like everything in a modern hospital is electronic, even the thermometers. At Kaiser they have a list of 82,000 so-called critical items that have to be checked for Y2K compliance.
To make sure that the patients don't suffer because of date-confusion among its machines, Kaiser says it is spending at least $200 million -- more than two months-worth of the hospital's drug budget - on its Y2K contingency plan.
The hospital may even scale back some services around New Year's.
Kaiser may only perform urgent surgeries. Elective surgery will be canceled to mobilize all of the hospital's resources to make sure that patients in emergency situations have the best care and access to functional equipment.
Stanley says critical patients like Preston would not be jeopardized.
"These IV pumps," she says, pointing to a group of tubes, "if they were to shut down we can manually give him the fluids and things he wants because we can calculate that. Before we had pumps that's how we did it."
In fact, many hospitals may find themselves doing things the old way in the new year.
Y2K analysts at the Gartner Group predict that between one-third and two-thirds of the nation's health care facilities will not be completely ready, and will encounter bugs in about 10 percent of their most vital systems.
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