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 By Online medications

Year 2000 trouble begins next January, experts warn

Pharmacists who think they have another 18 months to get their computer systems ready to handle the new century are in for an unpleasant surprise next New Year's Day, warned two Year 2000 experts.

Pharmacy computer systems that have not yet been tested to determine whether they can avoid so-called Y2K failures could encounter problems as early as Jan. 1, 1999, said Chuck Reed, president of the American Society for Automation in Pharmacy. Speaking at the recent meeting of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Reed was echoed by James Woodward, senior v.p., Cap Gemini America, a Dallas-based Y2K solutions company.

"Most prescriptions are automatically good for one year, and if I can't store Jan. 1, 2000, in the system, then I've got a problem next Jan. 1," said Reed. "If I were a pharmacist, I'd demand to have my applications software upgraded before 1999. Pharmacists should really push their vendors to make sure they're Year 2000 compliant before the end of this year, and if they aren't, they should consider alternative vendors."

The pharmacies at greatest risk of having systems that will be befuddled by the century change are those with older equipment, such as 286, 386, 486 models, and Pentiums sold before 1997. These older machines, which pharmacies often use as workstations, may not be fixable and just die in 2000, Reed said. While no one wants to watch his or her equipment expire, a bigger worry is whether systems still running are supplying accurate information.

"Many people say that the best thing that could happen, if you're going to have a problem, is that your system doesn't work at all," said Reed. "The worst thing that could happen is it works but has problems you don't recognize. You go on doing business, but things like drug interactions are no longer working correctly, so you're making patient safety decisions on really bad data."

With seven out of eight facilities exposed to serious Y2K failures and no time left to fix the systems, hospitals are in "critical condition," said Reed. Aside from the pharmacy system, which may interface with an outpatient site, a lot of medical equipment has embedded chips with date problems that are more difficult to find and fix.




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