Programmer's < fumble jeopardizes thousands of medical reports

Oh Danny boy, the typos, the typos are galling

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A bug in code that generates medical reports could force patients in Ireland to repeat their hospital and clinic scans.

The Emerald Isle's healthcare bosses have admitted a flaw in the PACS software used to store documents in its National Integrated Medical Imaging System (NIMIS) causes some records to not display a single, but highly relevant, symbol.

"The issue identified is in relation to the 'less than' symbol (<) being recorded in the examination report on the PACS component," the country's healthcare executive said today.

"Where the < symbol is used on a report and when that report is viewed electronically within the PACS, the symbol has been omitted and is not visible."

In this case, the < key is important because, of course, the symbol is used to denote measurement values, and in its absence, a reading of "less than" an amount would be read as "equal to" the amount (eg, '<30mg' becomes '30mg').

The programming error affects radiology and cardiology scans, and other medical imaging, we're told. The flaw was found and fixed on July 28 and so far no new errors have been discovered in generated reports. The executive noted that the error is only present in documents displayed within the PACS system itself.

"The majority of reports are either viewed on paper or electronically within NIMIS RIS, neither of which are affected by the symbol issue," the HSE added.

"In addition, examination reports which are printed from NIMIS RIS and show the symbol correctly on the report are not affected. It is also the case that reports sent electronically to GP practices are not affected by this issue."

While Ireland's health execs did not give estimates for how many are affected, it's reported the bug has hit "up to 25,000" people who had scans performed in 40 hospitals dating as far back as 2011. Officials are still reviewing the matter, and have formed an incident management team to decide the next steps to take. ®

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