Time may heal all wounds, but it doesn't necessarily make for healthy companies. News regarding three of Baseline's recent Case Studies proves that sometimes things get worse before they get better.
Poor Agilent Technologies (Case 055, "Pointing Away," January 2003). After staggering out of fiscal 2002 with a billion-dollar loss that included a $70-million charge for a flawed software deployment, the Palo Alto, Calif., company spilled another $369 million of red ink in its first quarter. Meanwhile, the testing and measurement firm said it would lay off 4,000 additional employees—more than 10% of its already-diminished work force.
By comparison, H&R Block (Case 022, "April 15, 10:21 p.m.," May 2002) must have breathed a corporate sigh of relief when it released its recent third-quarter earnings report. The Kansas City, Mo.-based company raked in $132.3 million in profits with help from the firm's mortgage division, and remains the nation's top tax-preparation service. Maybe a robust tax season will overshadow news that dozens of New York customers had their personal information stolen—and their refund checks diverted—by a group that included a former H&R Block staffer.
And it didn't take long to figure out that medical-record errors go well beyond St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center's mistaken toe-tagging of 8,500 of its living patients (Case 060, "St. Mary's Scare," February 2003, p. 72). When Duke University Hospital botched a teen-age girl's heart-lung transplant in early February, computers were just about the only system that wasn't being blamed. Human error was the culprit, since the organs arrived at the North Carolina facility with proper documentation, and were unmistakably of the wrong blood type for the 17-year-old who received them. (The girl died two weeks later.)
Despite calls for additional human safeguards, a recent survey from the Health Information Management Systems Society says information systems could help. The majority of medical practitioners named the implementation of technology as a top priority to reduce medical errors and promote patient safety.