One Student’s Perspective on Electronic Medical Records

I’ve had the good fortune in the past year or two to watch one of my daughters’ favorite babysitters blossom into a full-time nursing student at the University of West Georgia. Not only do my girls benefit from her great bedside manner, including an infinite amount of patience, but I get an occasional inside glimpse into the world of digital medical record keeping in the greater Atlanta area.

Her training at West Georgia has taken her to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston, Wellstar Cobb and Austell, Fayette Piedmont, Tanner Medical Center and Gentiva Healthfield Hospice. She graciously offered to share her rookie’s perspective on the electronic medical records – including SCM/Quest (Allscripts Sunrise Clinical EHR system) and Meditech – she has used at several of the facilities she has trained in.

How long have your healthcare training facilities had EMRs in place?
All except Gentiva Healthfield Hospice – in-home hospice care, for the most part, sticks with paper charting. If they were to make the switch to an EMR, they would have to have access to a central database from their personal computers/iPads/Blackberries, etc. All others have had some sort of electronic database for at least five years.

How intuitive did you find them to be in your first training sessions/rounds?
Once I had been trained in the first system I encountered, the rest seemed very user-friendly. They have been in use long enough now that they are efficient and fairly self-explanatory.

They all allow an employee to cluster patient care and spend enough time with the patient because the time stamp on documentation can be changed to the time that the intervention was completed. For example, I could complete a full assessment on a patient, bathe them and administer their medications without having to document in the computer every few minutes. I could just open their EMR after completing their care and add the correct time stamp on my documentation.

What were the easiest to use, and what were the most difficult?
Meditech was the most difficult to use, perhaps because I had limited access as a student. It was difficult to find complete admission notes and patient histories.

Speaking from a “rookie’s” perspective, what would you tell vendors of these systems to better their products?
Add a patient verification requirement before each documentation session, i.e. each set of vital signs, medications given, etc. (Something simple, like a box with the patient’s name and DOB and an “Ok” button)

Did your supervisors express any enthusiasm or dissatisfaction with any particular systems?
All expressed enthusiasm, but they also were concerned any time a system was to be updated with even minor changes. Fayette Piedmont uses one EMR system for Labor and Delivery, and a completely different system for the rest of the hospital. This means, for the staff, that a new baby’s records have to be re-entered into a new system once they are discharged from labor and delivery and admitted to the NICU or postpartum unit. It also means the pharmacy has difficulty accessing vital information when, for instance, they need to know a baby’s weight to send the appropriate dose of medication to the NICU.

How aware are you of post-implementation training that goes on with EMRs, based on the facilities you’ve trained at? Do your supervisors ever mention it?
Once an employee is hired, they usually must display proficiency with the charting system within a specified training period. When Fayette Piedmont updated SCM/Quest, they did not retrain each employee, but they did send out a packet with a detailed description of the changes. From what I have seen, the older nurses who may have preferred paper charting at one point do not seem to have any problems with the electronic charting.

Have you been made aware of any increase/decrease in positive clinical outcomes as a result of physicians/nurses using these systems? Any examples you feel comfortable sharing?
The major changes to these systems each time they are updated usually involve the addition of safeguards. For example, the newest version of SCM/Quest has the patient’s name, weight, room number and allergies on every page of the charting system, and in multiple locations on the page.

For the employees who pay attention, this has reduced many documentation errors. There is also an embedded link to drug guides in every electronic medication order with explicit instructions and safe dose ranges. For the employee who knows these features are there, they are a tremendous help, and they do serve to protect the patient. It is still possible to document in the wrong patient’s chart, without realizing it, in any system.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how her experience with EMRs changes as she continues her studies and then moves into the professional world of nursing, which will likely coincide with healthcare facilities continuing to move through the various stages of Meaningful Use.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I’ll profile an EMR educator, and find out what other students are facing when it comes to EMR training. In the meantime, what sort of healthcare IT-related challenges will our new workforce face in the coming year? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.