Wireless and Mobile

By Wylie Wong Print this article Print

Hospitals and medical clinics invest in technology to improve patient safety, save money, boost efficiency and position themselves for the future.

Wireless and Mobile

Though EMR technology is growing in importance, other technologies are starting to play a role in the health care industry. For instance, Island Hospital in Anacortes, Wash., has gone wireless. Nurses carry tablet computers as they make their rounds, recording temperatures, blood pressures and heart rates directly into their patients’ EMRs.

Staffers also wear wireless voice over IP devices to talk to one another. These devices from Vocera are about the size of a pack of gum. To reach a colleague, an employee presses a button and says the name of that person. On the receiving end, the employee is told who is calling and is asked whether he or she wants to answer the call.

“It’s good for locating people,” says Rick Kiser, Island Hospital’s assistant director of information systems. “Nurses who need assistance no longer have to run into the hallway to call another nurse.”

In addition to these technologies, the hospital invested in a new imaging system, applications and servers. It also upgraded its Fast Ethernet LAN with Gigabit Ethernet D-Link switches and uses Cisco equipment for its Wi-Fi network.

Both the wireless communications and computing devices have made hospital staffers more productive and efficient.

About four years ago, the IT staff equipped its nurses with computers on wheels, but the devices were big, unwieldy and hard to keep clean—and there weren’t enough of them. Last year, IT purchased 3-pound Motion Computing C5 tablets, each of which includes a handle for easy carrying, a 10.4-inch screen, a stylus pen and a tough exterior that protects it from spills and drops. The tablets also include built-in scanners—for checking the barcode ID on patients and their drug prescriptions—so nurses can make sure they are dispensing the right medicine to patients.

Electronic Workflow

The St. Vincent’s Health System in Alabama moved from paper records to EMRs 15 years ago, but hospital administrators recently decided it was time to replace its remaining paper-based systems (the patient registration process and many human resources forms) with an electronic workflow.

The health system, with four hospitals, is using Adobe Systems’ LiveCycle software to create and manage new electronic documents. This spring, the IT staff will pilot an electronic hospital registration system, whereby incoming patients will sign consent forms and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act release forms electronically.

St. Vincent’s IT staff will test several technologies, including a Wacom monitor, which is a tablet-like computer device, and a signature scanner, which is similar to signing a credit card at the store, says Steve Anderson, director of IT. Today, the hospital has to scan in a patient’s paper records at the end of the hospital stay at a cost of 6 cents or 7 cents a page, so an electronic registration process will save money.

St. Vincent’s management believes it has built the foundation for a future portal by allowing its patients to pay their bills online. It hopes to develop that portal within two years and include online consultations for minor health issues via e-mail or instant messaging, Anderson says.

Health care IT initiatives—ranging from EMRs to patient portals—improve patient care, but they also help the bottom line by improving operational efficiencies and attracting and retaining customers, says Garber of the Fallon Clinic. “If we can’t stay financially solvent, we’re gone,” he says. “EMRs make us more efficient, which saves us money and enables us to provide higher quality medical care. Attracting more patients keeps us in business.”

This article was originally published on 2009-01-23
Wylie Wong is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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