Springhill Medical Center emerges from the paper age

Automated procedures and electronic processes cut some emergency room visits in half

For software developers, a crucial metric of success is the ability of their organization’s employees to get solid results from the applications the developers build, a practice known in the industry as “eating one’s own dog food.” Mark Kilborn, a regional CIO of Eclipsys, has spent the past three years helping Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Ala., in its effort to automate emergency department procedures. He got to witness the results of his team’s project when, in early October, his 14-year-old son broke his wrist playing football.

Within minutes of walking through the door, the boy’s name, age, and other pertinent information were displayed on a large electronic board, informing the staff about the situation. Within 90 minutes, the boy was admitted, X-rayed, diagnosed and fitted with a cast, and that included a half-hour wait for Kilborn’s private physician to arrive. That’s about half the time it might have taken previously. “We got to experience firsthand the improvements in both workflow and efficiency,” Kilborn says.

In years past, information at the 252-bed facility was entered on paper charts and attached to clipboards. X-ray instructions were written down and hand-delivered to radiology, and so on. To modernize, the center looked to Eclipsys, an IT software and services provider, to help automate virtually every aspect of patient care and to handle the integration with third-party systems. In August, the medical center had fully launched Eclipsys Sunrise Clinical Manager and Sunrise Emergency Care, which are fully integrated and share a common architecture and data repository. Eclipsys also implemented a Picture Archive Communication System to manage the storage and distribution of digital images, surgery management system, and medication management solutions. From admission to discharge, the application suite allows every note, message, and process to be electronically documented, ordered, and delivered -- and to be easily monitored by any staff member with the proper credentials. Doctors who are not physically present at the hospital can now read triage notes, X-ray images, and other data, from anywhere that has a secure Internet connection.

Fortunately, the new system was widely embraced. “If the doctors who use our hospital don’t like the way we do things, they [may choose to] go somewhere else,” Kilborn says.

Within three months of taking the Sunrise Clinical Manager live, physicians were using it to enter about 60 percent of various orders, a percentage that has since grown to 100. Typical of those using the system, Kilborn says, was a hospital doctor who received a call informing him of a patient who had been admitted after a car accident. Within minutes, the doctor logged into the hospital system from home, read the patient’s triage notes and ordered X-rays. When he arrived at the hospital a short while later, the images were waiting.

“Needless to say, he was sold immediately,” Kilborn says.

Other features that ease the process of treating patients is an application for discharging patients, which allows caregivers to print instructions, follow-up appointments, and other notes all in one place. Its capability to translate into five languages helps bridge cultural differences and ensure that doctors’ orders are clearly understood. Doctors can also set up parameters so they are e-mailed or paged when particular events occur -- for example, if a patient’s blood pressure reaches a certain level.

The hospital has seen patient-satisfaction improve. Prior to the implementation, its scores as measured by Press Ganey, which surveys more than 7,000 health care facilities, ranked below 50 percent for the Alabama region. They now stand at about 90 percent, Kilborn says.

“When you’re in an emergency room, the unknown is frightening,” Kilborn says. “The overall engagement is a lot better for the patients because things happen faster.”

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