Along these lines, Wisconsin’s Saint Clare Hospital discovered that if it kept notebooks near elevator entrances, staff could easily drop off equipment after a shift ended -- reducing the need to track unreturned systems, which had been the case when the laptop repository was in a secure room in the bowels of the building, recalls Wisconsin’s Townsend.
Mobility on a roll
Another realization has been that smaller isn’t necessarily better. PDAs and tablet PCs simply lack the easy data entry and horsepower to run medical records software. Yet laptops are too heavy and awkward to carry around, and they tie up an arm that may be needed for a procedure.
The solution? Most hospitals strap laptops to carts and place computer terminals both at patient beds and in small work areas throughout the floor.
In some hospitals, doctors have adopted PDAs on their own to track drug interactions; some facilities even use wireless PDAs with bar-code scanners to match patient bracelets to the correct drugs at the bedside. But these advanced uses are relatively rare, notes Mary Jo McElroy, vice president of IS at OhioHealth, a regional hospital system.
Instead, hospital IT has focused on developing SSO (single sign-on) access for diverse sets of applications, so people can easily log in and out of medical systems as they go from terminal to terminal. Access to every record is tracked scrupulously to meet regulatory auditing requirements.
Nurses and doctors can have as many as 20 patient accounts to maintain, Duke’s Rodriguez says. That’s one reason hospital IT has had to help vendors develop specialized glue applications that know to synchronize patient data across all open applications. For example, if a doctor opens the medical record of a patient, the window showing the lab results would instantly call up that patient’s current lab data, while another window might automatically load the patient’s treatment plan. “You don’t want to treat doctors as data-entry clerks,” he warns.
The latest area of exploration is how to integrate data from various monitors. Today, nurses spend lots of time recording measurements such as blood pressure and EKG readings into patients’ electronic records. Although some vendors have developed notebooks with special connectors for different types of monitors, that doesn’t allow the flexibility needed within a hospital, much less across them. So, analyst Holland notes, vendors are developing both a standard physical connection and wireless options that would allow any monitoring device to upload its readings into a hospital PC -- something that could benefit many other specialized apps, from oil exploration to field service and repair.
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