Northland hospitals lead with information sharing networkAn ambulance crew brings an unconscious patient from a one-vehicle crash to a hospital trauma center late at night. A driver’s license is the person’s only identification and the emergency room staff must act quickly to save his life.
By: Jane Brissett, For the Duluth News Tribune
An ambulance crew brings an unconscious patient from a one-vehicle crash to a hospital trauma center late at night. A driver’s license is the person’s only identification and the emergency room staff must act quickly to save his life.
A physician might have to treat the patient without knowing anything about his medical history. While the doctor is working on the patient, a staff member calls around trying to find the person’s medical records. But at some places the records won’t be available until morning. And treatment would be quite different if the doctor knew that the patient was unconscious because of accident trauma rather than to a diabetic coma, for example.
“So many times ED [emergency department] physicians just don’t have access to the information that they could have or should have,” said Clark Averill, chief information officer at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth.
Soon, that information will be much easier and faster to find. By the end of the year, some regional hospitals and clinics will locate the patient’s medical records through a computer network that is expected eventually to link as many as 422 sites in 18 northern Minnesota counties. The staff will simply enter the patient’s name and birth date. After seeing where they are, the staff will call and the records will be faxed or e-mailed.
The northern Minnesota sites will comprise the state’s largest health information exchange — and one that others nationwide will be watching, Averill said. Initially, Cook Area Health Services and all St. Luke’s and SMDC Health System sites will be linked. Others will follow.
Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes will be able to use the network. It will prevent duplication of services, help better coordinate care and improve communication among health-care professionals, said Cheryl Stephens, executive director of the Community Health Information Collaborative, or CHIC, the Duluth nonprofit spearheading the $500,000 project. The Minnesota Department of Health and the federal government are covering most of the cost.
CHIC promotes use of information technology and collaboration among health entities to enhance care and help save money.
The health information network can exist because many hospitals and clinics have transferred paper records into electronic form.
CHIC’s service area is far ahead of most places. About 82 percent of hospitals and 78 percent of clinics in the service region have electronic records, according to the organization’s data. Last January, Money magazine estimated about 8 percent of the nation’s hospitals and 17 percent of doctors operated electronic health record systems.
The federal government is providing $19 billion in economic stimulus money to speed conversion to electronic records.
Within five years, President Obama would like to have a nationwide health information network so facilities throughout the country can exchange records. However, many issues, including how best to protect patient privacy, haven’t been worked out.
Phase 2 of the CHIC project will make available a summary of patient medical records with allergies, medications, chief complaints and other information. The final phase for CHIC’s project will be to hook into the nationwide health information exchange.
CHIC’s service region was one of 14 nationwide selected to test the feasibility of a nationwide network. The pilot was intended to prove that health entities with various computer systems could electronically communicate securely with each other, said Averill, who is also chairman of CHIC.
St. Luke’s, Virginia Regional Medical Center and Riverwood Health Care Center in Aitkin tested the system using fictional information. The pilot successfully concluded late this past spring.
“Once there’s real information, it will be invaluable,” said Missy Ranum, a registered nurse who formerly worked in the St. Luke’s emergency room and is now a clinical systems analyst there. “I think it’s going to be great to have so many [sites] signed on.”