FirstHealth Recognized for Advances in Technology
That is according to survey results published this month by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine, the journal of the American Hospital Association (AHA).
Each year, the AHA and industry partners conduct the Most Wired Survey and Benchmark-ing Study, which asks hospitals nationwide to report on their use of information technology to improve performance in five key areas: safety and quality, customer service, business processes, workforce, and public health and safety.
The 100 hospitals and health systems that scored the highest on the most recent survey were named Most Wired. The 25 organizations that are not on the Most Wired list, but whose scores improved the most from 2004 to 2005, were cited as Most Improved. According to Most Wired rules, a health system cannot be on both lists.
The survey found that the Most Wired and Most Improved hospitals as a group invest heavily in information technology to streamline business and clinical practices, reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes.
"In short, the survey looks at how hospitals use information to deliver better health care," says Dave Dillehunt, FirstHealth's chief information officer.
According to Dillehunt, FirstHealth and its three hospitals -- Moore Regional in Pinehurst, Richmond Memorial in Rockingham and Montgomery Memorial in Troy -- have deployed several technologies over the past two years that are making significant differences for patients, physicians and staff.
These technology applications include:
-- Two telehealth programs --disease case management and wound care -- that allow physicians and nurses to keep tabs on patients once they leave the hospital.
Some patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure and diabetes are sent home with easy-to-use computers that they use to transmit their pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar level and other critical measurements to a central monitoring station. A nurse reviews that data to determine if a home visit or consultation with the patient's physician is needed.
The goal of this telehealth program is to reduce nursing visits while improving the patient's health. It also allows nurses to manage the care of more patients more effectively.
For the wound care program, nurses take high-resolution, digital pictures of surgical incisions and other wounds, which they transmit to the central monitoring station for the wound care specialist nurse to review.
The wound care nurse can consult with the physician about any changes needed in the patient's care, and can even e-mail the pictures to the physician.
-- A surgical robot at Moore Regional called the daVinci Surgical System is revolutionizing treatment for men who have prostate cancer and for whom the best treatment option is removal of the prostate.
Because the robot allows surgeons to operate through much smaller incisions, most patients experience less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery. There is also less risk of nerve damage resulting in sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
"This is technology that truly makes a difference in a patient's treatment," says Dr. Robert Chamberlain, a urologist with Pinehurst Surgical.
-- A technology called PACS (Picture Archival and Communications System) has replaced the films produced by imaging studies -- X-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI -- with high-resolution images on computer screens.
The system captures images digitally, makes them available to physicians anywhere via the Internet, and stores them as electronic records that can instantly be retrieved whenever they are needed.
"PACS also dramatically improves the quality of images and the amount of diagnostic information they can give us," says Dr. John Stevenson, a radiologist at Richmond Memorial. The system is in place in all three FirstHealth hospitals.
-- The three hospitals have also switched to an electronic medical records system.
"There used to be one paper chart for each patient, and when a physician or nurse had it, no one else could look at it," Dillehunt says. "Now, because the record is electronic, any number of clinicians can have access to it simultaneously. That greatly improves coordination and efficiency."
Moore Regional is one of only a small number of hospitals that use bar code technology in medication administration.
"It verifies that we are giving the right dose of the right drug to the right patient in the right way at the right time," Dillehunt says.
-- The Mercury MD System allows physicians to start checking patients' lab and X-ray results on their hand-held PDA devices as soon as they walk into any of the three FirstHealth hospitals. Any new results are available instantly.
"The faster physicians can get information, the faster they can determine the next course of action for the patient," Dillehunt says. "That is the reason for a number of the new technologies we have embraced."
Other than FirstHealth, the only hospital or health system in North Carolina to make this year's information technology Most Improved list is Gaston Memorial Hospital in Gastonia. Only three health systems in the state are on the Most Wired list: Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, Duke University Health System in Durham and University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina in Greenville.
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