The doctor is online
Most of us have one: a file drawer or a box or a set of folders bulging with statements from doctors’ offices, letters about lab results, reminders about checkups.
Our doctors’ offices have their own versions: walls or drawers lined with files about all our medical comings and goings, our first vaccines, and latest cholesterol test results.
Slowly but surely, all that information should be coming together as the nation embarks on an electronic revolution in healthcare. With support from the federal government, a growing number of healthcare providers are installing computer systems designed to keep patient records orderly and accessible and to enable sharing among providers (with the patient’s permission, of course).
“The goal is to maximize safety, effectiveness, and efficiency while minimizing cost and inconvenience,” says Charlene Webber-Schuss, RN, director of Health Information Technology at Community Hospital. “Having all of a patient’s information in one place is extremely valuable. All of the caregivers who may need it can review the patient’s history, avoid duplicating tests, get a comprehensive list of medications being taken, and look for trends.”
Your allergist, for example, will be able to see which medications other doctors are prescribing before adding something to the mix to treat your seasonal suffering. Or the orthopedic surgeon who will repair your broken leg can view the X-ray that was taken in the Emergency department rather than repeating the imaging process. And when it’s time to fill out your child’s immunization record for school, you’ll have all the dates at your fingertips.
Community Hospital began moving toward electronic systems more than two decades ago, starting with billing and registration. New components have been added over the years, including a computerized physician order-entry system so doctors can enter medication and treatment orders directly into a computer rather than writing them out on paper.
A big step forward came in 2010, with the arrival of Peninsula Health Information Link (PHIL). PHIL is a system that electronically links patients, their doctors, Community Hospital, and their medical records. Patients whose doctors participate can use PHIL to:
- schedule office visits
- have prescriptions filled
- communicate by e-mail with their doctors’ offices to address minor medical issues through an “e-visit” rather than an office visit
- view lab and radiology results
- track their health histories
Even if their doctor has not signed on, patients can use PHIL to build their own personal health histories, helping them keep track of their care in a single, accessible place.
Of about 250 local community-based doctors who see patients or are members of the medical staff at Community Hospital, more than 100 now have an electronic health records system; and more are being added
Dr. Sharon Wesley, a primary care physician in Monterey, was an early adopter of PHIL. It was a natural fit for her office, which has had its own electronic health record system since she opened it in 2006. Now, with PHIL, she can more easily connect the information she’s been building for five years with her patients and others in the medical community.
“I feel as though we are more of a team,” she says. ”My patients are better served as a result of that.”
Maureen Whalen, one of Wesley’s patients, has become a frequent user of PHIL. She has been managing several health issues, one of which requires regular contact with the office. Between visits, she often uses e-mail to resolve questions that arise. It’s turned out to be easy and effective to communicate via e-mail rather than a phone call.
“This way, I type the message in and I know it says exactly what I want it to say,” she says.
Doug Sunde, a plastic surgeon and hand surgeon in Monterey, uses PHIL frequently to order medications for his patients.
Like most physicians, Sunde used to write out prescriptions by hand, then send his patients off with them to their pharmacies, where they would wait around patiently (or not so much) for the prescriptions to be filled.
“Now I just sign onto PHIL and ‘e-scribe,’ ” Sunde says. “It’s faster and reduces opportunities for mistakes.”
To learn more about the revolution in electronic health records, read Community Hospital’s Annual Report.