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Wednesday, July 01, 2009 9:00 AM
Research News: Integrated Electronic Medical Records Help One Health Care Team Provide Better Care

Debra: Is your patient allergic to anything? Do they have any pre-existing conditions? Did they have any recent surgeries? These are critical questions that clinicians in emergency departments face every day, all too often without the benefit of a patient’s medical record or full medical history. That’s why the Mount Ascutney Healthcare Consortium in Vermont says integrated electronic medical records - ones that store and share patient information among groups of authorized providers - can improve health care delivery and save lives. Here to talk to us about the technology is Mr. Glenn Thornton of the Mount Ascutney Healthcare Consortium. Welcome, Mr. Thornton.

Mr. Thornton: Thank you.

Debra: The consortium had already been using electronic medical records but saw the need to develop an integrated system. Tell us why.

Mr. Thornton: The problem with our old system was that doctors spent too much time looking for information on their patients. Information on a single patient was spread out, as there was no single location where a doctor could just pull up all the information he or she needed on a patient. For example, a doctor might have to call a lab to get test results, or they might have to search for a paper chart. The new system solves that problem.

Debra: How does the new system work?

Mr. Thornton: The doctor logs into a Web site, which was designed by Orion Health and our organization, performs a patient search, selects a patient, which then pulls the patient’s chart instantly. The electronic chart includes lab test results, a detailed medical history, and, in some cases, digitized radiology images. The new electronic system saves time and gives the doctor more complete information, and in some cases, that could mean the difference between life and death.

Debra: Can you give us an example?

Mr. Thornton: Well say a patient comes into the emergency room complaining of a chest pain. Under the old system, the emergency room doctor might not see the results of an electrocardiogram performed the week before. But using the new integrated system, the doctor can see the test results because the EKG was scanned into a central repository, and start appropriate treatment right away.

Debra: Does the system also help clinicians provide better care for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma?

Mr. Thornton: Well let’s use a diabetic patient as an example. The updated system contains all of the patient lab results, which allows the provider to run a trend analysis graph for any given time period on any one or more of the discrete data elements, such as Glucose and HbA1C’s, and allows them to print out a graph to share with the patient, and in this way, the updated system makes it easier for doctors to track the progress of a person with chronic conditions.

Debra: Mr. Thornton, thank you for joining us today to talk about the integrated medical records system.

Mr. Thornton: My pleasure.

Debra: For more information about this project and others, visit healthit.ahrq.gov. Up next, health care advice for navigating the health care system.

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