New Children's Is a Pioneer in Paperless

Article excerpt

Wall-mounted flat-screen monitors glow in intensive care units, graphically representing each patient's blood pressure, medications, breathing, pulse and other vitals.

Nurses control computers on wheeled carts, recording patients' symptoms in a database. With a bar-code scanner, similar to a grocery store clerk's, they match a code on each patient's wristband to their medication.

Doctors type up prescriptions on laptops and electronically send requests to the pharmacy, through a system that cross-checks for allergies and correct dosages.

This is the paperless Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

"We built the hospital architecturally without any chart racks or spaces for charts to be," said Children's Chief Information Officer Jacqueline Dailey. "And we built a very small medical records department because we do not intend to move any paper records to the new campus. It's a completely digital hospital."

A review commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that adopting information technology improved the likelihood that doctors would remember to vaccinate at-risk patients by as much as 33 percent, cut problems associated with medications by at least half and reduced by 65 percent the time it takes to identify a hospital-acquired infection. Wait times for everything from getting X-rays to medication pickup fell by 24 to 73 percent.

"Do I think (health information technology) is the right thing to do? Absolutely, no question about it," said Nir Menachemi, an associate professor in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"We've done things in our health-care system over the years with far less evidence that they will work," said Menachemi, who published a study in the journal Pediatrics on technology in children's hospitals.

For more than 100 years, if a Children's doctor needed a patient's history of care at the hospital, he or she consulted a paper chart -- a file that is supposed to contain all information about past visits, allergies and medical conditions.

But Children's has many departments, and it takes time to move a file from Allergy and Immunology at the main hospital in Oakland to Dermatology in a satellite office in Pine.

"In virtually all situations you're waiting a certain period of time to get that information," said Dr. Steven Docimo, vice president of medical affairs at Children's. …