Switching to a new system is not always an easy task, but many of the doctors and nurses at WCA Hospital are becoming quickly acquainted with the newly-implemented electronic health record.
Dr. Wolf-Dieter Krahn, WCA Hospital assistant director of medical affairs, has had a form of electronic health record in his office since 2002, so he had prior experience with the process before WCA made the official switch on March 1.
"I've been dealing with it for a while, and I think this is a huge deal for the hospital," Krahn said. "It's something that both President Bush and President Obama have pushed for."
According to Krahn, some of the doctors have taken to the system quicker than others, but in order to facilitate the change, the hospital spent a great deal of time and money to train its staff both as the roll out began and as it has continued. The company that WCA partnered with, Siemens, also had many staff members on site to help employees work out bugs and train those that needed assistance.
"By and large, I won't say that everyone is happy with it, but many physicians are extremely happy," Krahn said.
At the turn of the century, one of the things that Krahn felt was acting as a time drain was having to fill out the demographic data on every single form.
"It seemed to be busy work," Krahn said. "Using an electronic health record, though, I can generate forms with the demographic data already supplied. That was one of the biggest reasons for switching over to an electronic health record in my office. Keeping charts updated and accurate is much easier with an electronic health record, as well. If I had a patient with 10 or 15 medications and it was time for refills, then I would have to write out 10 or 15 prescriptions. Now it's just a click of a button. Issues of legibility are completely gone with this, too. That's not to say that you can't make mistakes, but copying errors or legibility errors, which have created huge malpractice suits in the past, ought to be a thing of the past now."
For Ann Downing, WCA Hospital vice president of nursing, the electronic health record was something that she'd worked with at previous employers. When she was offered a position at WCA and found out that they didn't have a similar system, one of the biggest challenges for her was getting used to manually recording the information again.
"I'd seen the many many benefits of the electronic health record," Downing said. "One of the only cons is that if there's a challenge with the system now, it's difficult for staff to go back to paper. There are so many wonderful opportunities with the electronic health record, like the fact that 100 different people could be looking at the same chart at the same time if they needed to be. Before, if more than one person needed the chart, they would have to wait. It's just wonderful."
Now, when Downing is called to see a patient, she can look at their record directly from her office and get to know the patient's history before she even steps foot in the room. As an individual who also spends time with patients at Jones Hill, which is connected to the WCA electronic health record, she can also look at those patients' records before leaving to see them.
"The wonderful thing for the nursing staff is that they don't have to do their charting on a piece of paper or a log," Downing said. "When they do vital signs, they can go in and listen to a patient's lungs and that documentation goes right in. If a doctor comes in five minutes later, that information is going to be available in the chart. In the past, that information might not have been put in the chart until the end of the shift when they sat down and had time to look for the chart."
According to Downing, there area also a plethora of devices available to the staff to make accessing the electronic health record easier. There are computers at the nurse station, mobile computer carts that can be brought from room to room and tablets that physicians and nurses can carry with them to see patients. In addition to the new devices, there are also more easily accessible metrics that the staff can look at to ensure that a patient is progressing and having an optimal stay at the hospital.
"In the past, if I'd asked how long patients were here on average if they were admitted, they would've had to look through every single patient chart to figure out how long each patient was here," Downing said. "Now, though, you just click on the length of stay, or anything else that you might need to know, and it gives you that figure immediately."
According to Downing, it's also possible to create custom order sets that can personalize the electronic health record to individual physicians. There are also frequent meetings regarding how the system can be better utilized. Once a month, the executive team and members from Siemens meet in order to discuss where the hospital is in regard to the implementation of the system, as well as to work through any challenges that may have become apparent.
"Knowledge is power when it comes to hospital work, and when you need information to make decisions, it's available much more quickly and easily with the electronic health record," Krahn said.
"I really can't think of anything bad about it. I couldn't tell you a single thing that I think is a negative," Downing said.