Alberta Health Services (AHS) confirmed Monday evening that a network outage occurred earlier in the day, causing widespread disruptions and postponements to non-urgent surgeries and other procedures.
EMS dispatch functions with backup procedures and calls to 911 were not affected and Health Link, 811, remained fully available.
However, the province postponed non-urgent surgeries to ensure emergency and urgent surgeries could continue as AHS worked to resolve the blackout. Routine laboratory appointments must also be rescheduled.
“As a precaution, AHS is postponing some elective, non-urgent surgeries until the outage is resolved,” said AHS Executive Director of Issues Management and Communications Kerry Williamson Monday evening. “Emergency and urgent surgeries are continuing.”
“We are in the process of rebooking those impacted patients. We are reviewing the network outage to determine the root cause to avoid such issues in the future.”
It is unclear what caused the outage, but a cyberattack or hacking is not suspected to be the cause. AHS official administrator Dr. John Cowell said Monday’s outage was an “unprecedented, unusual, [and] unique” situation.
“As far as I understand, it’s never happened like this before,” said Cowell.
Though the province resolved the disruption Monday at 2 pm, AHS said it would commission a third-party review into the cause of the outage and identify ways to avoid a similar incident. They did not provide a timeline on when to expect the final report.
“We must understand what happened so that it does not happen again,” said Cowell, who thanked Albertans for their patience.
University of Calgary health policy expert Lorian Hardcastle said it’s encouraging that AHS acted quickly to review the incident, but said she hopes any changes needed are implemented equally quickly.
Hardcastle said Alberta should be proud of its electronic record-keeping system, but added there are risks associated with a centralized healthcare system.
“There are tremendous benefits to having electronic medical records and having records no longer be paper. There’s much better continuity of care, better integration of systems, better access to test results,” she said.
“But when you run into an outage, it paralyzes the system … The thing to learn from this particular issue is to figure out what went wrong and what redundancies and safeguards need to be in the system so we can rely on it.”
Hardcastle recommended patients keep records of their medical information in case they need care when medical staff can’t access records themselves.
The outage occurred shortly after the province announced immediate access to thousands more publicly funded orthopedic surgeries, with AHS partnering with more Calgary-chartered surgical facilities.
They identified more than 6,000 people waiting for orthopedic surgeries in Calgary. Over half are waiting longer than “clinically appropriate” for knee and hip replacements.
The UCP’s Health Care Action Plan (HCAP) is expected to increase orthopedic procedures performed in the Calgary area by 21% compared with 2021/22 to displace nearly one-year wait times for such surgeries.