IT is becoming an increasingly important part of health-care delivery, and the need for reliable IT infrastructure in support of patient care has become critical. With moves toward digital imaging and digital pharmacy, and ever-growing patient record databases, the need for real-time communication throughout the medical professions is reaching a threshold. Hospitals continue to move away from paper forms in favor of PC tablets and away from X-rays in favor of digital imaging, increasing the need for a reliable electronic repository (i.e., data center).
Where hospitals once stored all patient information as paper records in thousands of folders, patient information can be digitized and stored electronically at a consolidated facility that can be, but does not necessarily need to be, located on site. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2009, only 1.5 percent of nearly 3,000 non-federal hospitals surveyed have a comprehensive electronic health record system. Estimates range widely as to the expected annual savings when patient records move completely online, but it could be as high as $77 billion.
As storage media such as SANs and tape storage become more affordable, the business case for removing hard copies improves. In addition, as the use of these storage technologies increases, multiple hospitals can access, retrieve, and cross reference patient data using network software.
Patient records can be retrieved and documented by a physician on a tablet at a moment’s notice. Although some departments have kept electronic patient records for decades, the cross pollination of information drives its further use. Overlay software that can gather information from radiology and pathology departments on a common system allows for accurate and fast communication between departments. No longer does a physician have to wait for the file to be transferred from Radiology to Oncology, because information retrieval can be transparent and almost immediate.
IT use in health-care departments such Radiology, Pathology, Cardiology, Oncology, and Pharmacy, to name just a few, is also expected to increase. The IT facility needs to be capable of storing these digital images but also make them accessible to physicians at a moment’s notice. The PC tablet is an example of relatively new approach to point-of use-patient care that enables physicians to track and document notes and recommendations.
Managing the ever-growing volume of health-care financials and reimbursement claims is an equally urgent task for health-care providers. Storing more patient records in electronic databases tends to reduce billing errors. The reduced error rate increases efficiency and revenue. Electronic doctors’ notes, digital pharmacy costs, radiology cost, etc., can all be easily linked and accurately summarized with each statement.
Johns Hopkins Hospital has pioneered the use of electronic patient records (EPR) and deployment of high-reliability mission critical space to house the EPR. Johns Hopkins has used EPR since 1998 for basic information and lab results. The next generation of EPR allows fast and easy on-line access to patient records in all areas across the Johns Hopkins continuum of care, thus enhancing patient care. Through EPR, the user can view patient data integrated from multiple sources, including lab results, radiology reports, ECG reports, sonogram reports, discharge summaries, and operation notes.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital has developed an EPR interface engine, an application providing patient medical records across its network of hospitals and medical facilities. Eventually clinical context object workgroup (CCOW) technology will enable EPR to share patient and user context with other CCOW-enabled applications. Some of the functionality of EPRs can be web enabled with read/write or both access depending on user privileges. Write-enabled users can add all patient problems, allergies, or medication lists.