WENATCHEE — Paper charts are a thing of the past at Central Washington Hospital.
On April 1, hospital officials began operating a new computerized system that links patient records with every department in the hospital, including the nursing units, the emergency department, operating rooms, admissions, billing, dietary, the pharmacy and housekeeping.
“What we have done is changed the daily work flow of every single person who works in the hospital, which is a hugely complex issue,” said John Hamilton, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
The main goal, he said, is to make patient stays as safe as possible.
“Using the computer makes things much more exact,” he said. “Say a doctor inadvertently orders a medication that the patient is already taking; an alert will pop up and say, ‘This medication is already prescribed’ or it will say ‘This will interact with another medication’ that the patient is on. That kind of intelligence is built in there.”
Hamilton said other hospitals that have set up similar computer systems “have seen improvements in patient safety, reductions in unintended errors and improvements in communication.”
The new electronic medical record system was purchased through Cerner, a Kansas City, Mo., firm, Hamilton said.
The system is costing the hospital $22 million over five years, starting with a contract in 2008. The money is coming from reserves and current earnings.
Registered nurse Meegan Carlson thinks the new system is saving the staff from wasting time looking for the paper chart.
“Now, we’re able to swipe a badge at the computer and have the patient information at our fingertips while other people are accessing the chart at the same time,” she said.
She said computers on wheels also allow medical staff to immediately chart critical data “without taking our eyes off our patient. … that is huge.”
Hospital officials wanted to implement the new system this year so that staff would be familiar with it when the new patient tower, now under construction, is completed in May of 2011.
The new computer system, he said, places Central Washington Hospital “among the top 5 percent of the most advanced hospitals when it comes to this clinical information technology.”
Betsy vanLobenSels, a doctor who works exclusively at the hospital treating patients, at Central Washington Hospital, has been in charge of developing a menu of orders that doctors can choose from when writing orders for their patients.
Before the new computer system, physicians would write orders on paper and then a secretary would transcribe them and send them to the appropriate department, she said.
Now, physicians must choose from a menu of orders that are sent directly to the appropriate department. This is aimed at improving the speed that orders are processed and cutting down on order misinterpretation.
While the computer system is making a huge difference in the way the hospital functions, Hamilton said, it will be barely noticeable to patients.
New computer screens will be outside patient rooms. They replace paper charts that used to hang either outside a patient’s room or at the nurse’s station.
Patients also might notice a quieter hospital, with more people doing more work on computers and less work on the telephone.
Dee Riggs: 664-7147