High-Tech Devices Enhance Patient Care
By Tara Hulen
Some of the most important medical treatment advances in recent years have been quiet ones—high-tech devices that transmit crucial information from patient bedsides, recording a wealth of data to improve care. Nurses spend less time entering data and more time with patients. The potential for errors is lower. Care-team members can see new records right away instead of tracking down paper charts. And patients enjoy peace of mind knowing that everyone treating them is on the same page—or accessing the same computer file.
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are becoming commonplace in physicians’ offices and hospitals around the country, in part because new federal rules require their adoption. UAB adopted electronic records technology early, beginning in 2008; since then, the medical center has rolled out sophisticated systems that can quickly enter patients’ vital signs directly into their EMRs, monitor drug delivery, and instantly notify health-care teams of important changes in patients’ conditions, among other tasks.
“The goal is to create a complete and fully integrated EMR with immediate electronic synching of all patient data, available to everyone on the health-care teams at the same time,” says Joan Hicks, UAB Health System chief information officer. The benefits from systems already in place, Hicks says, are a return on investment that is “more than compelling.”
Take a closer look at a few of the new technologies connecting patients, caregivers, and treatments:
A system known as Bedside Medical Device Integration (BMDI) uses 400 physiologic monitors and 140 ventilators to read the vital signs of patients in UAB Hospital’s critical care and surgery recovery units. The data is immediately available in each patient’s EMR, where nurses verify the accuracy of the information. So far, BMDI has proven to save time and create a more complete EMR, basically eliminating data-recording errors.
Wave of the Future
Waveform readings have long been the standard method of tracking the health of babies and mothers during labor. Printed on paper strips, the readings must be stored for 20 years, according to law. Now, the FetaLink system takes waveform vitals data such as fetal heart rate, contractions, and the mother’s blood pressure and oxygen saturation and immediately enters them into the patient’s lifetime EMR. An abdominal belt worn by the mother captures the fetal data.
In addition to being more accurate and useful than the old paper strips, FetaLink offers a big-picture view of the patient’s health by inserting data and annotations directly into the EMR and nursing documentation. The information is available for remote monitoring at the nurses’ desk and by collaborating physicians outside the hospital. A central monitor at the nurses’ desk also provides audio and visual alerts if FetaLink detects any abnormalities or concerns. UAB currently has 56 of the fetal monitoring machines.
Smart Pumps help to manage IV medication throughout UAB Hospital by setting upper and lower dosage limits via a drug library that is managed by a central server. The system acts as a guide and safeguard for nurses and clinicians who are beginning an infusion. Nurses program the system and verify that the pumps are set to supply patients with the correct medications and dosages ordered by their physicians.
The Vital Links system enables nurses to record more than the standard patient vital signs. By scanning an ID barcode on a patient’s armband, the monitor verifies the patient’s identity with the EMR. The technology allows for capture of the vital signs data as well as nursing information such as a patient’s pain scale or other clarifying information. The nurse then validates the data and saves it to the EMR, all while interacting with the patient. Vital Links improves data accuracy and saves time for clinicians by updating the EMR instantly. Clinicians can access information wherever the EMR is accessible, prompting quicker response when a patient needs assistance.
The UAB Women & Infants Center Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Continuing Care Nursery—where babies have the most critical needs, conditions can change quickly, and immediate action is especially crucial—now uses the Vocera/eMergen monitoring and alert system to notify clinicians of urgent situations and prompt faster responses. Clinicians wear Vocera notification units—about the size of a small remote control—around their necks; future versions will deliver improved notifications and secure texts to smart phones.