By Christopher Jason

– Nebraska Medicine and its network of hospitals are experiencing a period of EHR downtime, which is impacting its Epic Systems EHR and internal and external communications, according to KETV Omaha.

The system-wide network outage occurred early Sunday, and as a result, it’s requiring clinicians and users to conduct work by hand, rather than using the EHR system.

“Nebraska Medicine is currently addressing a security incident affecting some of our IT systems,” Nebraska Medicine spokesman, Tyler Wilson, said in a statement. Wilson did not provide further details about the nature of that security incident.

“Our IT team is working tirelessly to restore the impacted systems and bring them back online, and we have engaged leading independent forensic experts to support our efforts,” Wilson continued. “We are implementing workarounds to minimize any disruption to our patients, and we remain committed to providing the high standard of care that our patients have come to expect and deserve.”

The Nebraska Medicine Community Connect EPIC Network spans over 13 counties. It includes Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk, Great Plains Health in North Platte, Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, and Beatrice Community Hospital and Health Center in Beatrice.

As of Wednesday, most Nebraska Medicine locations were postponing scheduled appointments.

The EHR downtime is also impacting patients who are attempting to access their COVID-19 test results.

“When I’ve called, they’ve just said ‘You know, our systems are down, and they’re unable to get the results’ and things like that, so it’s just kind of a waiting game,” an anonymous Faith Regional patient said to the news station.

The patient said she expected to receive her COVID-19 test results back early in the week, but she is still waiting on the results.

“We all have to quarantine in my household. There’s me, my husband and then we have a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old. So, my 7-year-old can’t go to school, my husband can’t go to work,” the patient said.

With the EHR system down, patients are also unable to access the patient portal.

“Since [Nebraska Medicine is] currently having a cybersecurity event that caused their network to go down, as well as many of their servers, we’re unable to get to Epic,” Brandon Kelliher, chief information officer at Great Plains Health, said to The North Platte Telegraph.

“At this point we don’t have any reason to believe any patient information is compromised,” Kelliher noted.

However, clinicians at Great Plains Health can still access patient data through other record-keeping systems, according to Kelliher.

“We’re pulling data out of those systems so we can care for the patient safely and we know about them and things like that, so we’re OK there, with a couple minor exceptions,” Kelliher continued.

Due to a 2019 cyberattack, health IT experts at Great Plains Health have experience maintaining patient care during EHR downtime.

“We’ve done many things not only around protecting the organization’s data, but also about preparing for downtimes, which is the real disruption. We’ve had teams meeting ever since December and working on downtime processes,” Kelliher explained.

“We were planning to test one (in October); however, our test just occurred,” Kelliher added. “The real operations of the hospital in downtime situations depend on the people’s willingness to work together, and if there’s one thing hospitals do, it’s that we pull together when there’s a problem. So, people are being taken care of and things are getting done.”

Faith Regional Health Services, a hospital that recently implemented Epic EHR, also released a statement on the situation:

“Faith Regional is a member of the Nebraska Medicine Community Connect Epic network, which is currently experiencing a network interruption. Due to this, our electronic medical records and patient portal systems are presently offline. The service provider to these systems, Nebraska Medicine, is addressing a security incident and working diligently to restore the impacted systems and bring them back online. They have engaged leading independent forensic experts to support their efforts. Faith Regional is implementing workarounds to minimize any disruption to our patients, and we remain committed to providing exemplary medical services to our patients.”

Kelliher said he expects the EHR system to be back up by the end of the weekend.