A three-year mission to move NorthBay Healthcare’s two hospitals into the top tier of information technology leaders culminated Dec. 1 as physicians shed the paper world for the digital age of electronic medical records.
Hundreds of tasks previously tracked and recorded on paper-and-ink charts are now entered and stored electronically. The outcome, project leaders report, is higher quality, more efficient care and greater patient safety.
“Outstanding care in our hospitals will be even better,” said Dr. Donald Denmark, vice president for Medical Affairs. In spearheading the technology initiative, he noted, “This is an enormous undertaking for a system our size, one which required collaboration across every department and extending into the community to include physicians and everyone who works within NorthBay Medical Center and Vaca-Valley Hospital.
“This puts NorthBay in the top 2 percent of hospitals using information technology across the clinical setting, according to data collected by the New England Journal of Medicine,” he explained.
An integrated electronic record system connects doctors and nurses to the latest evidence-based medical practices related to the management of their patient’s condition. Once data is in the electronic “chart,” links to best-care practices are automatically generated, giving physicians and staff the latest and best information from journals and other publications at their fingertips.
A more complete medical history for each patient will be immediately available to all care providers across all hospital services. This will prevent unnecessary tests and thereby save costs. It will provide better data to produce better outcomes.
And entering everything via the computer means a physician’s hard-to-decipher penmanship is no longer an issue.
Delivering patient care will be more efficient, especially the time it takes to discharge a patient once he or she is ready to go home. Since it is faster to move orders electronically, completing discharge paperwork, planning for follow-up care and providing education materials related to the patient’s diagnosis will be completed in a more efficient and timely fashion. Patients get more care-at-home instructions to speed up their recovery after leaving the hospital.
“In most cases, except for seeing the physicians and staff working on computers in their rooms, this will not be very noticeable to patients,” said Dr. Denmark, “but it will greatly improve the quality of their care and prevent errors.”
Joint replacement surgery first became available in the 1960s. In those days, Dr. Brooks explained, it took four hours for the surgery, and the patient had to spend a fair amount of time in a wheelchair after that.
In the last 10 years, surgical techniques and the materials used in the artificial joints are so improved that a joint can be replaced in an hour and the patient is quickly up on their feet.