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HealthWise By Susan Melvin

Digital Technologies And Health Care

December 3rd, 2013 – Bulky patient charts holding countless pieces of information and handwritten physicians orders are a thing of the past. In their place are electronic medical records that can transport patient information in real time with the click of a button.

An electronic medical record, or what we call an EMR, stores your health history and medical information in an electronic, instead of paper format. Using a highly secure network, physicians, nurses and other clinical staff can enter needed patient information, including your doctors’ orders, prescriptions and other important items, directly into a computer. This allows clinicians to better coordinate care – even from multiple locations – through immediate access to secure data.

New digital technologies are maximizing the quality of health care while minimizing errors. It means pertinent patient information – like diagnoses, test results, imaging, treatments and medical history – is immediately accessible to clinicians providing your care. Our health care professionals can now complete the same tasks in a fraction of time with more time to interact with patients – a welcome change for our staff and our patients.

EMRs are also tackling the age-old problem of having to decipher someone’s handwriting.

Physicians now enter their orders directly into the computer system – virtually eliminating the chance of transcription errors and dramatically improving turnaround time. As an added safety measure, when a physician enters a prescription order, for example, the system automatically checks for adverse drug interactions or allergies and immediately alerts the physician if any are found. Evidence-based clinical care guidelines are also integrated into the system, providing valuable decision-support for our physicians right at their fingertips.

Connectivity with our patients and our physicians is a high priority and one that will keep our hospitals at the forefront of patient care for years to come. At MemorialCare all our hospitals have comprehensive EMRs. As a result, we are seeing significant improvements in clinical outcomes, quality, safety and satisfaction for patients; better staff efficiency, accuracy and productivity; and stronger engagement and satisfaction among our physicians who can easily retrieve complete patient information.

Thanks to EMRs, less than 1 percent of physician orders are written, thus eliminating nearly all transcription errors and saving millions of dollars a year in paper and duplicate work. Turnaround time for initial physician orders of ‘stat’ medications has been slashed from 41 minutes before EMRs to 9 minutes. The reduced costs associated with EMRs have the potential to save the health care delivery system millions of dollars. And a million fewer sheets of paper printed each month makes us a greener health system.

MemorialCare Health System has helped about 1,000 affiliated physicians and 3,000 members of their staff implement an EMR in their practices. Other initiatives ensure physicians with or without an EMR system can easily access their patients’ records. Outpatient records are also available to hospital staff during a patient’s admission. Inpatient and outpatient EMRs combine for a true electronic continuum of care.

Your health is important to you around the clock – not just during office hours. Inquire about patient focused electronic health records for your personalized Internet connection to your doctor’s office (MemorialCare's is called MyChart). You can schedule appointments, request prescription refills, review your health history and more – online, any time.

We encourage businesses to participate by collaborating with hospitals and physicians to determine how information technologies impact their employees’ health and by offering their workforce information on utilizing personal health records. While we have made tremendous progress in this arena, we believe it is important that all organizations from the private and the public sector join together to ensure patient technologies move from access for the few to a necessity for all sectors of the health care industry.

(Susan Melvin, D.O., is chief medical officer at Long Beach Memorial.)