Hospitals Need to Prepare for Y2K Litigation

WASHINGTON — In addition to being Y2K ready in medical equipment
and information systems, hospitals also must be ready for Y2K
litigation next year, says Albert Shay, an attorney in the Y2K Task
Force of Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal. ‘The plaintiff’s bar is
looking at Y2K with bulging eyes,’ Shay says.

Hospitals and other health providers are at a significant risk
of liability as a result of the Y2K problem, Shay says, and many
will be involved in Y2K litigation due to Y2K failure. ‘This is a
very serious problem for hospitals,’ he said, adding: ‘Most
hospitals anticipate being involved in Y2K litigation.’

Right now, hospitals should be well on their way in testing
medical equipment and information systems for Y2K readiness and
contacting vendors of equipment. They also should be documenting in
detail what has been tested and when. ‘Hospitals will need proof
that they were reasonable and diligent in preparing for Y2K,’ in
the event of a lawsuit Shay says.

Four steps Shay recommends for hospitals:

1. Access the liability risk in all its internal
equipment and external vendors (including critical supplies, blood
banks, pharmacy suppliers and all vendors).

2. Pinpoint the vulnerabilities: Who are the likely
plaintiffs? What are some likely litigation scenarios? ‘Hospitals
need to develop a strategy on how to address these issues now,’
Shay said.

3. Document all Y2K readiness efforts. ‘This goes from
everything to board minutes to project planning, triage decisions
and rationale, scheduled reports of work done, vendor communication
and test dates,’ Shay said.

Hospitals could receive some relief from proposed legislation to
limit Y2K law suits and impose shared liability on all companies
responsible for computer failures. The measure, already passed by
the House, was approved by the U.S. Senate on June 15. However, the
Senate’s 62-37 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to
override President Clinton’s promised veto.

If there is litigation, Shay said, it is important that a
hospital have all its records handy. ‘It would be unfortunate if a
facility did all the right things, but didn’t have the
documentation to prove it.’

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