Digital medical records critical during hurricane season - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Digital medical records critical during hurricane season

This week marks the first full week of hurricane season and it is a reminder to hospitals about the importance of digital medical records.

August 2005: Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans area hospitals and left patients in a dire situation - evacuated to hospitals like Lake Charles Memorial - with no medical records.  "They did not have a digital image of their records, so they lost a lot of medical record images and the patient's medical chart was gone," said LCMH Director of Information Services, Belinda Sommers. 

That chaos pushed Sommers and the IT team at Memorial to get the ball rolling with some major changes, trashing the paper and going digital.

With a laptop and log-on, physicians can access patient information anywhere - including X-rays and lab tests.

Nurses update every visit with a patient and ensure the continuum of care is not broken.  "We chart everything in the computer," said registered nurse, Lacey Bellon, "from vital signs to every time they eat to every assessment that we use."

All hospitals and physicians offices face a 2015 deadline to come on board with electronic medical records. If they do not, they could lose medicare funding.  "It's a stringent requirement even on the software companies to provide what the government is asking us to provide and also the security and privacy needs of the patient," said Sommers.

The switch to electronic medical records started in 2009 at Memorial with document imaging.  2010 was the year the hospital registration system changed.  2011 brought the nursing documentation into the mix, and this year, physician order entry and medication administration went live.

The changes are linked nationwide to a reduction in medication and physician errors.  "In the past, you had to have the physician write the order, someone had to read the order and put it in and verify the order," said Sommers.

The streamlined information gets to the caregivers faster and more accurately.  It is something that also empowers the patient.  "It's looking so that the patient can also be a big part of their own healthcare, so they can have access to their own health records, also make it easier to transfer to other hospitals," said Sommers.

Sommers says the biggest drawback to electronic medical records is the learning curve for physicians. There is a lot to learn with the new system, in addition to the normal patient workload.

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