UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Health Care
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:
By Gail Allyn Short
This year, an estimated 785,000 people will experience their first heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. During that same period, some 470,000 people, who have already had one or more heart attacks, will have another. But an intervention program known as cardiac rehabilitation could help reduce both of those sobering figures.
Health professionals working with cardiac rehabilitation develop individualized plans for cardiology patients that target specific problems such as poor diet, stress, smoking, lack of exercise, and other lifestyle factors that affect heart health.
UAB cardiologist Vera Bittner, M.D., medical director of the Coronary Care Unit and the UAB Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, recently reported that, in an analysis of data taken from the Medicare database, cardiac rehabilitation lowered the death rate among participating patients by as much as 35 percent compared to non-participants with similar heart problems.
Living Longer and Healthier with Cystic Fibrosis
By Gail Short
Cystic fibrosis (CF) was once exclusively a child’s disease. Until the 1960s, most sufferers died before reaching grade school.
A deadly, autosomal, recessive disorder, CF causes thick, sticky mucus to clog the lungs and digestive system. Patients experience shortness of breath, wheezing, and dangerous lung infections, and their bodies have a harder time absorbing nutrients from food. But today they’re living longer, helped by advances including new drugs and nebulizers, high-fat diets, and supplements to replace digestive enzymes.
“Life expectancy has grown exponentially,” says Veena Antony, M.D., a professor in the UAB Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine. “Today the median is about 38 years. Some of my patients are in their 60s, and one is over 70.” For patients who outgrow pediatric CF services, UAB’s Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program helps them manage their own care.
“Our goal is to help patients lead normal, adult lives,” says Antony, the program’s director. “Most of them do so despite having a disease that has so much disability attached to it.”
Patients in UAB's Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program meet with a physician, respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner, dietician, and social worker on the same day for updates on lung function, body weight, and overall health.
Established in 2000, the program has an 11-member staff that provides comprehensive care to more than 160 patients.
When those patients visit UAB, they meet with a physician, respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner, dietician, and social worker on the same day for updates on lung function, body weight, and overall health. They also receive counseling to help them manage school, work, or major life changes that can impact their health, Antony says.
Preparing Peace Corps Volunteers for Nursing Careers
By Jo Lynn Orr
The two years Andrea Torre spent in Dimbwe Village in southern Zambia changed her life. Now she has come to the UAB School of Nursing (SON) to learn the skills she needs to spend the rest of her career helping to change others’ lives.
As a Peace Corps volunteer from 2006 to 2008, Torre was officially tasked with helping to teach women in Dimbwe about HIV prevention. But once she learned the local language and got to know the people, Torre took on a larger role. “I worked with women’s groups on income-generating activities, taught math at the local school, and worked with the local clinic to vaccinate and weigh children five years old and younger,” she says.
Collaborating with the village’s parent-teacher association, Torre wrote a grant proposal and received $3,000. “Over the next eight months, a preschool was built with local materials and local labor, a local teacher was hired, and 45 children each year will now receive an early education,” she says.
After returning to her hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah, Torre worked as a program director at a local nonprofit organization while she settled on a future career. “I went back and forth between teaching and nursing,” she says. She decided on the latter, because “I knew with nursing I could educate and heal.”
Inflammation is a necessary component of the immune system’s fight
against infections and the repair of damaged tissues—but problems can arise if the fire won’t subside.
Asthma, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression have been linked to a constant activation of the inflammatory response. It’s not an easy condition to treat, either, because its causes include obesity, stress, and pollution, among others. As a result, Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., the Webb Endowed Chair of Nutrition Sciences, and many other UAB researchers are investigating ways to control inflammation on an individual basis.
They’re not the only ones searching for a solution. Several high-profile celebrities have been touting “anti-inflammatory” diets as a cure. These diets call for eating lots of fruits and vegetables, decreasing consumption of processed carbohydrates, replacing fats and proteins containing omega-6 with their omega-3 counterparts such as fish, and using olive oil instead of other oils.