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Health care industry moving toward it, though

Paperless offices not so paperless despite tech advances

The electronic dream of being able to conduct business in a “paperless office” may still be a long way off for many fields in Mississippi, but various healthcare entities are moving closer to that ideal in their quest for more efficient patient care and a better streamlining of office paperwork – making the electronic patient chart a reality in more and more health care settings.

One long-term care facility to go to a totally paperless medical record system is the newly-opened Methodist Specialty Care Center (MSCC) in Flowood. With a 60-bed facility for long-term patients, the new hospital utilizes wireless technology to allow all patient care to be charted at bedside and stored in a totally digital format, said Bobby Stigler, director of long-term care at MSCC.

“It`s taken all the data-gathering off the paper system to a computer system,” he said.

The system, called Smart Charting, is the newest service offered by Jackson-based American HealthTech, the largest software provider for the long-term care industry, according to Stigler.

The concept has a twofold benefit: it allows for patient care to be handled totally from the bedside and frees skilled caregiving personnel from the demands of extensive paperwork.

“Nursing assistants will have a handheld PC to transfer information into the system,” said Stigler. “Nursing staff is such a valued commodity out there that the less time they spend in laborious record-keeping, the more valuable that nursing personnel can be (during the day).”

The system is being implemented in stages as the MSCC fills with patients. By the time the hospital is at capacity, all anticipated 120 employees will be trained on the paperless chart in four phases: nursing assistant/activities of daily living; nursing/assessment process; medication administration; and quality assurance.

According to Stigler, the ability to immediately update the chart and record information at the patient`s bedside rather than the nursing station is as critical in long-term care as in any other medical field. Medication errors occur most often as a result of incorrect prescriptions, the wrong dosages of the correct medications or the wrong timing of various dosages. The new system allows caregivers electronic access to a continuously updated record of each patient, with changes in medicines recorded at the point of care.

The quality assurance component should offer significant cost savings as well due to its monitoring of possible complications for each patient in MSCC`s care, said Stigler. “It identifies patterns in care. It should help in identifying problems with patients at risk for different things,” Stigler said, noting that it was much easier and cost-efficient to monitor a feverish patient for dehydration than to treat it once it occurs. The ADL component can note amount of fluids taken in per day, the nursing assessment process documents the possible complications in the patient`s course, and the medication system ensures proper medicines and dosage for fever control.

Patient privacy is always a concern for healthcare facilities, and MSCC is no exception in ensuring its digital information stays confidential. The bedside input devices are handheld PCs, but no data is actually stored on them.

“The only place data is located is in the server,” said Stigler, noting the wireless PC serves only as a conduit for the nursing personnel to transmit information to and from the server.

American HealthTech serves more than 3,000 customers nationwide with its post-acute care clinical and financial software for the long term care industry. The company designs clinical and financial software for nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, both for independent nursing facilities or the multi-facility chains.

The Smart Charting software continues the integration of software solutions available to its clients. Other offerings include 13 modules designed especially to address today`s most pressing issues such as all case mix billing methodologies and various HIPAA compliance processes, according to Donald Bonin, marketing director for American HealthTech.

Another heavyweight in the Mississippi healthcare arena is making large strides in the electronic folder business as well. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi continues to refine its online claims processing, according to John Sewell, director of corporate communications BCBS.

“With the average claim now taking less than three days to process, our e-business initiatives are demonstrating their value to our company and those we serve,” he said in a statement.

The increasing rate of doctors’ offices and hospitals going to largely electronic processes and filing claims for their customers has made the changes even more effective, according to Sewell.

“Currently, 100% of our network hospitals file their claims electronically, and nearly 90% of our network physicians file electronically,” he said. For a practices that has not yet gone to electronic filing or patients who still file their own claims, Blue Cross can still take that paper claim and scan it into their electronic system to faster processing.

The Smart Charting services became available in later 2003, just in time for Stigler`s facility to begin planning its design and construction. The implementation has been easier at MSCC since it had been able to plan to use the new technology as soon as it opened, rather than implementing a paper system first and then retrofitting a digital platform – not that it hasn`t had its own difficulties.

“It`s a little cumbersome in the beginning to put all the information in a digital format,” he admitted.

But, Stigler said his personnel were eager to learn the new system and dispense with the traditional charts. “The nursing staff loves letting go of paper.”

He envisions more and more long-term care facilities and hospitals going to electronic charting as the options become more well-known.

“I would imagine that`s sooner rather than later,” Stigler said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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