Wireless Builds Checks Into Rx

November 24, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — In the old days — say some two months ago — filling a patient’s prescription at Saint Mary’s Health Care could occasionally take a little longer than people liked, perhaps an hour or more.

The doctor had to fill out the prescription form and send it down to the hospital pharmacy.

The pharmacy went through the process of verifying the information, checking for potential adverse reactions with the other medications the patient was taking, and then send the medication upstairs on a dispensing cart moving room-to-room.

Now, when a Saint Mary’s physician orders a medication for a hospitalized patient, he taps the request into a laptop computer connected to the hospital’s IT system.

The computer transmits the request instantly to the pharmacy and automatically cross-checks medications.

The computer system reduces the amount of time it takes to fill a prescription and, through electronic medical records.

Getting needed medications to patients faster is just one of numerous benefits Saint Mary’s hopes to see from the new system.

The hospital says using IT technology to order procedures and medications and update medical charts is designed to better manage medical information and to enable clinical staff to work more efficiently.

“It’s a new way of taking care of patients. It’s better and faster,” said Greg Forzley, M.D., medical director of informatics at Saint Mary’s Health Care.

“This is going to go a long way toward changing the way we deliver health care.”

The IT system is part of parent corporation Trinity Health’s $200 million project — dubbed Project Genesis — to move to electronic medical records and computerized order entry.

The goal of the system, that went into operation Oct. 15, is to improve efficiency, reduce the potential for errors, and improve patient safety and the quality of care.

Between pharmacy and procedures involving patient care, Saint Mary’s doctors write 4,000 to 5,000 orders daily, all of which are now done by computerized order entry. Medical charts are now kept and updated electronically, eliminating paper charts.

The system uses wireless technology to enable physicians to access a patient’s medical chart and history — with real-time information — from any location with a secure Internet connection.

For example, if a nurse has an urgent question about a patient’s care or if a doctor needs to consult with a colleague, they needn’t wait until the physician responds to a page or arrives at the foot of the patient’s bed to examine his or her chart.

A patient’s medical chart is available electronically via a secure connection to the Project Genesis system, regardless of whether the doctor is at home, at the office or making rounds.

“The information is all in front of me, it’s not brought to me,” Forzley said.

Saint Mary’s Health Care and Muskegon’s Mercy General Health Partners are among the first of Trinity Health’s 42 hospitals to implement IT upgrades under Project Genesis. Trinity is based in Farmington Hills

Nationally, the two institutions are among just 4 percent of the hospitals responding to a recent survey that have fully implemented computerized physician order entry, or CPOE, according to a report issued this month by The Leapfrog Group.

Another 16 percent of the 1,019 hospitals responding to the survey indicated they plan to implement CPOE by 2006 to order patient medications, tests and procedures.

Leapfrog was formed by corporate CEOs to push quality improvement in health care. The action came on the heels of a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine estimating that as many as 98,000 Americans die annually from medical errors in hospitals — 7,000 from medication errors.

Leapfrog cites research data showing CPOE helps to significantly reduce medication and other errors in hospitals.

At Saint Mary’s, the system will help to generate continual improvements in quality and operating processes by identifying problems faster, Forzley said.

“Any inefficiency of care that existed beforehand is now just easier to measure,” he said. “The system points that out,” he said.

Beyond the improved quality of medical care, Saint Mary’s has found intangible benefits that are hard to measure.

In the two-year planning and testing process that preceded implementation of Project Genesis, teams of employees from throughout the hospital — from the clinical disciplines to the administrative functions — worked closely together.

The result is a better understanding today between departments that can lead to resolving operational issues quicker, said Deborah Rockey, director of technical information system at Saint Mary’s.

“We have found that we are connected” to each other, Rockey said. “It was a cultural shift, and a big one.”    

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