Using Information Technology to Deliver Outstanding Healthcare

by Sarah Storey Smiles
Methodist Medical Center

A new day has dawned in the way healthcare is delivered, thanks to advances in information technology. Methodist Medical Center is using computer technology to empower patients to take increasing control of their health. And several IT systems enable physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals to improve quality of care and patient safety.

MyMethodist eHealth
The focus of healthcare in the 21st century is rapidly shifting from treating illness to disease prevention, and from a hospital-centric model to one centered on individuals. MyMethodist eHealth reflects this sea change in thinking about the role of healthcare in people’s lives. It makes it easier for individuals to stay healthy—in the comfort of their home or office.

MyMethodist eHealth is a secure, Web-based service that lets individuals create a personal health record for themselves and their family members. By keeping this record up-to-date, they have access to medication lists, test results and other important information from anywhere in the world.

MyMethodist eHealth also provides 24/7 communication between patients and their doctors. Using any computer with Internet access, patients can ask questions and receive answers about non-urgent healthcare matters, request test results and appointments and renew prescriptions. Some Methodist Medical Group (MMG) physicians are also using MyMethodist eHealth to offer “web visits”—a “virtual” office visit for non-urgent medical concerns.

Electronic Prescriptions
Methodist MedPointe walk-in clinics in Peoria, Morton and Pekin, as well as most MMG physician offices, provide patients with the convenience of electronic prescriptions. The healthcare provider simply submits a medication prescription to the patient’s pharmacy of choice via computer. The patient doesn’t have to carry a handwritten order, and in most cases the prescription is ready to pick up when the patient walks into the pharmacy.

Electronic prescriptions also increase patient safety. The technology eliminates the potential for pharmacists to misinterpret doctors’ handwriting. As the physician enters the prescription into the computer, the system crosschecks for allergies and interactions with other medications. It also prompts the doctor if the prescription exceeds the recommended dosage for a given drug.

Electronic Medical Records
In MMG offices and at the hospital, physicians use an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system that enables providers and caregivers to capture clinical data at the point of care. A patient’s EMR includes past medical history, medications, allergies and laboratory and radiology reports. Compared to paper charts, the EMR system results in higher quality of care and efficiency because all healthcare providers involved in a patient’s care can access important information.

Methodist Chief Information Officer Ellen Swoger explains, “Having an electronic patient chart reduces the dependence on paper. Instead of healthcare providers and caregivers waiting to get access to a paper chart, they can go online and get it anywhere at any time as long as they have been granted the appropriate security rights.”

For MMG patients, this means that if they ever require hospitalization, doctors at Methodist can quickly pull up their medical records. They’ll know which medications a patient is taking, procedures they’ve had, and results of past tests, even if the patient is unable to tell them.

PACS & Heartlab
Physicians can access their patients’ digital medical images using Methodist’s Picture Archiving & Communication System (PACS). This computer system is used to store, retrieve and distribute general x-ray, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), CT (Computed Tomography), ultrasound, and mammogram images and radiologist reports.

Methodist MedPointe facilities, plus several MMG physician offices, use PACS. This means a patient’s medical images are sent via computer to the radiologists at Methodist Medical Center, leading to faster turnaround time for results.

Heartlab is a specialized PACS that stores images from cardiovascular tests performed at Methodist. Images include echocardiograms (ultrasound imaging of the heart) and cardiac catheterizations (angiograms).

With both PACS and Heartlab, healthcare providers in different physical locations can view the same images and reports simultaneously. Specialists and primary care physicians can collaborate over the phone while they both view the same images. Physicians can also show the images to their patients in their office and discuss the findings with them. And patients are saved the trouble of driving across town to pick up films and take them to the doctor.

Medical Imaging Results Technology
Radiologists at Methodist Medical Center dictate reports using PowerScribe, a voice recognition system. This technology enables ordering physicians to receive radiology test results more quickly so they can start treating their patients sooner. In addition, radiologists will soon be implementing Veriphy, a computer system that notifies ordering physicians of critical test results.

Bedside Barcoding
For those times when an individual needs hospitalization, Methodist’s use of bedside barcoding results in increased patient safety. This technology ensures that every patient gets the right dose of the right medication at the right time. The nurse scans the barcode on the patient’s nameband, scans the barcode on the medication, and the computer alerts the nurse of any potential medication errors, including allergies. All information captured through bedside barcoding flows into the patient’s EMR.

Computerized Provider Order Entry
On many nursing units at Methodist, including the emergency department and intensive care unit, healthcare providers no longer write orders in paper patient charts. Instead, they type orders for medications, tests and more using Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE).

“From a patient safety perspective, CPOE removes legibility issues,” Swoger says. “There is a great amount of documentation throughout the country that shows computerized provider order entry reduces potential for medical errors that can occur due to misinterpretation of a healthcare provider’s handwriting. CPOE also automatically records the date and time a physician order is entered in the system and eliminates the middleman in order entry.”

Physician Portal
An IT system called Physician Portal gives physicians 24/7 access to multiple components of their patients’ medical information using any computer in the world with internet access.

“Physician Portal provides a one-stop shop where physicians can window into all the information they need,” says Swoger. “They can access their patient’s medications, vital signs (including heart rate and blood pressure), medical images and more. Physicians can also enter orders via this system. And Portal facilitates collaboration among primary care physicians and specialists by providing health information to all healthcare providers involved in a patient’s care.”

The Future of Healthcare
Advances in information technology at Methodist are helping patients maintain good health. Computer systems are also continually improving the quality and safety of healthcare delivery. High-tech capabilities—together with the timeless power of the human touch—are driving forward the Methodist vision: “Taking You WELL Into the Future.” iBi

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