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Computer outage causes San Diego hospitals to divert ambulances

Officials said the rerouting was not caused by a cyberattack


Several ambulances parked at the emergency room at Sharp Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022 in San Diego, CA.

Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS

By Paul Sisson
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Several San Diego -area hospitals were caught up in a computer outage early Wednesday evening that forced some facilities to briefly divert ambulance deliveries.

Unlike the recent computer problems at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside and the monthlong operations problems at Scripps Health in 2021, the cause of the latest problem, officials said, had nothing to do with hackers attempting to hold information hostage for ransom.

Sharp HealthCare confirmed that its Grossmont and Memorial hospital campuses were forced to stop accepting ambulance deliveries for about two hours, resuming full operations once systems returned to service just after 6 p.m.

UC San Diego Health was affected by the same outage for the same amount of time, though Dr. Chris Longhurst, the organization’s chief medical officer, said that no similar ambulance bypass was necessary at university facilities.

“There was a power outage at one of Epic’s data centers which caused the system to go down for a short amount of time, but we are now back up and running,” Longhurst said. “No patient care was impacted; we train for these situations regularly and are fully prepared.”

An Epic spokesperson who declined to be identified by name confirmed in an email Wednesday night that a data center the medical records company uses in San Jose experienced a “power issue” that temporarily impacted nine of its customers.

Generally, such computer operations’ locations have multiple redundant power supplies to prevent just such an outage from occurring. No additional information was available Wednesday night on the outage’s cause.

Epic is an electronic medical records system estimated in 2023 to have about 36 percent of the market, with most large medical providers in the region using its comprehensive services to track everything from prescriptions to the progress notes that doctors and nurses use to document the care that patients receive.

Sharp recently switched its systems from Cerner, the company’s main competitor.

John Cihomsky, vice president of communications at Sharp, said that while the outage temporarily severed communications with electronic health records servers, workers were still able to save records locally, using what the industry calls “downtime procedures,” until service was restored.

“Everything’s back online and we are no longer using downtime procedures,” Cihomsky said.

Kaiser Permanente San Diego and Scripps Health both said their systems were unaffected by the outage. It appeared, based on Scripps’ research, that medical providers who host the Epic health records systems on their own servers, rather than outsourcing that function to Epic, were not affected.

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