The Joys Of A Digital Emergency Department

Posted on June 3, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Folks, tonight I was reminded of why supporters get stars in their eyes when they talk about how health IT can change the business. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was lovely to see a group of medical professionals using and perhaps even enjoying their EMR rather than finding it a burden.

I was visiting the emergency room of a hospital in my area with a family member, who was unfortunately having some symptoms I felt needed immediate attention. The family member, my spouse, was too groggy to share many details of his prior care.

Enter the hospital’s EMR. Since my spouse had been seen there before, the staff was able to pull up a history, medication list,  allergies, test information and more. (Another sweet aspect for the hospital was that our billing information and insurance data were already available as well.)

After triage, the nurse was able to set the caregiving wheels in motion effortlessly, from her desk. His room assignment, status and designated caregivers were instantly pushed to a huge screen hung in the center of the nurses’ station.

From that point on, most of the visit was standard, but it was hard to miss that virtually everyone seemed happy and comfortable with the software, and that virtually none of the process produced paper documentation.  Not too surprisingly, the 50-something doctor who saw Mr. R took pen-on-paper notes, but he was the exception.

My sense is that the hospital must have done an excellent job of training staff members, who were happily clicking away and seemingly, handling tasks far more quickly than they would with paper charts. Handoffs between nurses seemed to flow more quickly than I’ve seen elsewhere. Our doctor popped into my husband’s room within 5 minutes of his arrival, possibly due to luck but more likely due to efficient handling of patient flow by the administration.

So what? you may be thinking. Isn’t that what the technology is supposed to do? Well, yes, but it doesn’t work that way nearly often enough, as we all know.

My point is just that after having seen so many professionals struggling to make sense of their EMR — and hearing from countless others who fear the same result — it’s always good to see a smoothly-working implementation in place. I do get so tired of being a downer!