Official tells TV: 'Some certainly received wrong answers'

Health Ministry delays test results, amid reports patients given false diagnoses

Authorities say data error in computer system being probed, affects only results not yet handed back, but media says dozens or hundreds may have been given incorrect findings

Medical personnel wearing protective gear handle a coronavirus test sample at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Medical personnel wearing protective gear handle a coronavirus test sample at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Saturday it has temporarily stopped providing coronavirus test results due to a data error in the ministry’s computer system, as several reports claimed an unknown number of patients may have received false diagnoses.

“Due to a computer data transfer problem discovered tonight, lab results are being delayed. Lab work is continuing as usual on Saturday, as is testing by the Magen David Adom service,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. “Teams from the Health Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are working on a solution at this time.”

Morris Dorfman, head of the ministry’s Regulation, Digital Health & Information Systems Directorate, said that during a routine inspection of data Friday several conflicting data points had been found.

“In light of this it was decided to carry out an extensive check of all labs of tests carried out yesterday,” Dorfman said. He said the tests in question had not yet been handed over to patients. “We believe the error will be fixed within a few hours,” he added.

But multiple media reports said some of the results under examination had indeed been handed back to patients, and may have been erroneous.

A senior official in an Israeli health maintenance organization told Haaretz: “We don’t know at the moment what scope of tests we’re talking about. It could be a small number of people or it could be dozens or hundreds.”

The report further asserted that the problem was not technical, but rather a case of human error in which wrong data was input into the system.

Hadassah Ein Kerem medical team members, wearing protective gear, handle a coronavirus test sample of Hadassah Ein Kerem workers at the hospital in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A report on Ynet said the heads of Israeli HMOs had been notified that “lab results may be incorrect.” A ministry source told the website: “We’ve had a knot in our stomachs since yesterday. If it’s a small sampling error, it’s negligible. But if it’s an ongoing problem it would be dramatic.”

Currently the Magen David Adom service carries out the majority of tests throughout the country, sending the kits to over 20 labs that analyze them and report the results to the ministry. The ministry then enters the data into its own systems and transmits them to the HMOs of the various patients, who are then notified of the results.

One source told Channel 12 news that the results of some 1,200 people sent from testing facilities to the Health Ministry had been incorrectly entered into the system at the ministry. It was not clear whether the patients had received incorrect diagnoses.

No issue existed with the tests or their results, the source said, but rather somewhere along the reporting chain.

A senior source in the health care system told Channel 12: “Due to the error there are certainly people who received negative results when it was actually positive.” He said that “at any rate the recommendation to everyone is to isolate.”

A senior HMO official told the network: “We are in a state of uncertainty… is this only yesterday’s tests or does it go several days back or more than a week?” The official said he hoped to know more about the source and scope of the problem by evening.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry’s new smartphone app Hamagen, which is meant to alert users if they’ve crossed paths with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, has also reportedly issued incorrect information.

On Saturday, three health professionals who were using the app were instructed to self-isolate after the system incorrectly tracked them to locations frequented by persons subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to a report in Walla, the three had not been to the locations recorded by the app, which raises concerns that some users are being told to isolate without reason, and alternatively, others who may have possibly been in close proximity to confirmed patients were not correctly tracked or alerted.

One of the three medical professionals was Dr. Zvi Fishel, head of the Israel Psychiatric Association, who told Walla  he received a notice from the app that he had been to a meeting in Bnei Brak on Monday morning, which was incorrect. Dr. Fishel said the alert was worrisome since it placed him at a location he hadn’t been. “If a mistake like this occurs and people have to stop what they are doing – especially medical teams, that’s something we need to pay attention to,” he said.

According to Health Ministry data, over 3,500 medical professionals are in isolation, including close to 1,000 doctors.

Earlier Saturday, the Health Ministry said that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel had risen to 3,460. Fifty were in serious condition, 73 were in moderate condition and 89 had recovered. The rest were experiencing mild symptoms. Twelve people have died of the pathogen.

The ministry said a majority of patients, 1,828, were isolating in their homes under monitoring, with 1,062 staying at various care centers including specially converted hotels. Only 469 were currently hospitalized.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Friday that the country could enter into a complete shutdown if there is not an improvement in the number of confirmed virus cases in the next two days.

Since Wednesday at 5 p.m., Israelis have been ordered to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

Some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country beginning Sunday to assist police in enforcing the government’s latest restrictions on movement to stem the coronavirus pandemic, the Israel Defense Forces announced Friday.

The empty main avenue along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Tel Aviv is seen on March 26, 2020 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office also released a list of “emergency regulations” that cabinet ministers had approved for employment in a telephone vote on Friday.

These included allowing civil service volunteers to be placed in government offices that are not typically allowed to employ such volunteers, shortening from six months the amount of time one must wait to receive unemployment benefits and providing additional financial services to Israelis above the age of 67 who were forced to stop working because of the outbreak. In addition extensions will be given for Israelis to pay their taxes.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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