a Dose of IT
HOSPITALS AND MEDICAL CLINICS INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY
TO IMPROVE PATIENT SAFETY, SAVE MONEY, BOOST
EFFICIENCY AND POSITION THEMSELVES FOR THE FUTURE.
BY WYLIE WONG
ILLUSTRATATION BY RANDY LYHUS
HOSPITALS, MEDICAL CLINICS AND
doctors in private practice have long discussed the need to improve health care
with information technology—such as
computerizing patient records—but few have done it
because of the cost and complexity. The Fallon Clinic
in Massachusetts is among those taking action and
making the vision of high-tech medicine a reality.
In 2005, the Fallon Clinic, which has more than
20 medical facilities in the Worcester area, began
migrating from a 12-year-old custom-built electronic
medical record system to a more fully featured EMR
application, which offers e-prescription, and a clinical
decision-support system that provides physicians with
best practices for care. It can, for example, warn doctors
if prescribed drugs could result in adverse reactions.
One doctor credits the new EMR software with
helping him detect prostate cancer early for several
patients. He took several years of blood tests, and with
a few keystrokes, created a chart from the raw data,
and discovered that while the results were within the
normal range, they were going up—a sign the patients
could be at higher risk for developing cancer.
“We caught the cancer early using the EMR,” says
Dr. Larry Garber, the Fallon Clinic’s medical director
for informatics. “We could see what was happening
over time, something we couldn’t do properly prior to
the system. It’s allowed me to provide patients with
better care and avoid making mistakes.”
The health care industry has been slow to adopt
electronic health records and other new IT initiatives
because of costs and the uncertainty about return
on investment. But that’s starting to change as early
adopters achieve results. These technologies streamline health care operations, reduce medical errors, and
give doctors and nurses timely access to patient information, resulting in more cost-effective and vastly
improved patient care.
Today, 13 percent of physicians use basic EMRs
to store clinical notes, order prescriptions, and view
lab and imaging results. Only 4 percent have fully
functional systems that include clinical decision-support systems, according to a 2008 study by the
New England Journal of Medicine. Adoption is on
the rise, however: Sixteen percent have purchased
EMR systems but have yet to install them; another
26 percent plan to buy a system in two years.
Provision of electronic health records is just one
piece of the health care IT puzzle, but it’s an important one because it drives related IT initiatives, such
as mobilizing the work force with wireless devices
and digitizing paper processes into an electronic
workflow, says Barry Runyon, a health care analyst for Gartner, a research firm in Stamford, Conn.
Cutting-edge health care providers have begun to
develop portals, giving their patients the ability
to pay their bills, schedule appointments, view lab
results and even consult with their doctors online.