SJRMC named among "Most Wired" for paperless effort

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Touch screens, scanners and electronic medical records helped land the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center as one of the nation's "Most Wired Hospitals" in a recent edition of "Hospitals & Health Networks" magazine.

Advancements in technology can help make our lives easier and safer. But many of it works behind the scenes in places where seconds can me the difference between life and death.

"About three years ago, we went live with our computer system," said Devin Zimmerman, Chief Medical Information Officer at SJRMC. "It was identified that medication safety was one of the primary reasons of why we wanted to do this."

Keeping patients safe starts before medication is even prescribed. In a paper world, everything was hand written with someone interpreting the hieroglyphics of physicians hand writing.

"We have taken that step out by having the physician put it in electronically," said Zimmerman. "The pharmacist now gets the medication electronically as well, in the pharmacy there are actually robots that know where the medications are."

Medication that is routinely prescribed is housed in a secure machine that requires two forms of identification before the drawers will even open—all part of a new step to ensure that patients are given the right dosage and medicine.

Hospitals officials did not stop there with the new technology. When patients are admitted to the hospital, they are assigned a badge or wristband that identifies them. A barcode located on the wristband can be quickly scanned to confirm a patient's identity.

When medication is being administered to the patient, a final scan confirms the dosage and medication matches the prescription.

"It is called a close loop system. It verifies that the patient is getting the correct medication," said Zimmerman. "You won't see the same types of medication errors that you have at a hospital which is all paper or a mixture of the two, because of the closed loop system."

The limited paper system also means that data can be securely stored and shared with other health professionals if needed.

"The minute that we have it secure, we have the ability to share it with the other medical professionals in the life of the individual," said CEO and President of the hospital Al Gutierrez. "That is really the benefit that when you walk into the hospital. That we can have visibility to what happened in a doctor's office to what happened to other aspects to your medical history that may not have occurred here."

At SJRMC, patient records are about 95 percent digital as consent forms among others are still paper. The goal is to make everything digital, with documents still on paper being scanned into the system.

While safety and communication remain the goal of the system, the hospital has found additional benefits.

"What happens to the patient is that individuals that are taking care of them are freed up to spend more time with them, engaging with them on a one on one basis knowing that automation is in the background to support a lot of things that were done manually and would take up different types of time," said Gutierrez. "So actually our patient contact, that I call value-add hours, are actually increasing."

The computer system has decreased the amount of time it takes laboratory tests to be run because of improved communication. As for security, the entire system is protected by several firewalls that are always being tested.

To see the complete list of "Most Wired Hospitals," click here.

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