When the Intermountain Medical Center opened its doors in Murray last fall, the impressive skyline of buildings was much more than an architectural showcase. What made the facility, as well as other hospitals, clinics and medical research centers around the state truly impressive is what is below the surface: the miles of cabling and wiring as well as wireless connectors and remote medical systems, all with the objective of bringing technological advancements into the heart of medical treatments and diagnoses.
The Patient at Center Stage
Remote access to medical information is a growing trend among health care providers. Being able to send data instantly to specialists, or to retrieve information from virtually anywhere on the planet is more than just another excuse to play with computers.
Look at this way: You go to the emergency room for a recurring kidney ailment. Yet, instead of having to bring in or recall previous treatments or test results on your own, an emergency room physician would have all this vital information at his or her fingertips. In this scenario, and other situations encountered by health providers and researchers, electronically captured data can indicate patterns and preferred treatments for providers and researchers, which can then point the way to more accurate diagnoses and improved health outcomes for patients.
Several Utah companies are leading the way into this innovative new frontier. Investigate is one such medical system developed by Sandy-based RemedyMD, which addresses the needs of researchers who conduct studies on specific diseases or conditions.
Working with data from a number of different patients over time, researchers are able to track a patient’s progress, as well as any complications, and then identify patterns to aid in improved treatments and care. The company has created different versions of the product, which incorporate “pre-built registries” for several specialties, including scoliosis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, ALS and surgical weight loss.
“A lot boils down to being able to collect data that is standardized, [and being able to] use it after the fact to make decisions about patient care,” explains Emily Bonham, senior director of product management.
The benefits of electronic capture and transfer of medical data ultimately come back to the patient with improved direct patient care. RemedyMD’s Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) allow clinicians to access a patient’s data from any computer with Internet capability. Intermountain Healthcare, on the other hand, develops its own products, including Help2, which, with proper authorization and protocols, can be accessed anywhere in the world through the Internet by a physician or clinic involved in a patient’s care.
In an industry where competition can and does exist, this collaboration, which also includes the patient through Web-based portals, allows all parties to work together for the good of the patient. For instance, a diabetic could test and input blood sugar levels several times a day at home, which can then be viewed by doctors at the hospital, providing the attending physician with more timely and accurate information of critically important measures.
“I have a fundamental belief that you don’t compete on the patient’s data,” says Marc Probst, CIO of Intermountain Healthcare. “We’ve encouraged our physicians to use [Help2], but left it to the patient/physician relationship” to determine if it is the best method, he says.
The idea of sharing medical information and data for the good of the patient is viable in nearly every aspect of a patient’s care. Radiology reports and x-rays are now digital and can be easily transmitted to specialists as needed. And results from most lab tests are processed electronically and sent directly to a patient’s chart where they can be accessed immediately. Yet, even with great strides being made in this arena, some medical fields, like pathology, still have a ways to go.
Brian Jackson is the medical director of informatics at ARUP Laboratories, an enterprise of the University of Utah. Jackson points out that pathology samples are actual specimens, rather than images, and are viewed only by pathologists, whereas other tests may be seen by many different doctors and specialists, making the motivation greater to digitalize and make accessible those tests. These specimens, unlike other lab tests, are stored on slides and cannot, as yet, be read or transmitted electronically. But with the rapid advancement in technology, he looks forward to the day when results of tests done on pathology specimens will come into the digital age.
As long as it is captured digitally, it can be shared, Jackson says. “The inability to share information has been a huge barrier in health care. Making information more available, having everything at their fingertips is very important.”
Behind the Scenes
One of the unseen partners in the collaboration taking place among health care insurers, providers and other parties including state government, is the Utah Health Information Network (UHIN), a non-profit organization which brings together these diverse individuals and communities to exchange both financial and clinical information in order to reduce costs and improve health outcomes.
“We focus on the electronic connectivity and exchange of data,” says Teresa Rivera, assistant executive director of UHIN. “You can’t just have one system for one payer and another system for another payer. It creates a huge burden.” Like Intermountain Healthcare and RemedyMD, UHIN is also working on easing the transmission of clinical data.
Participants of UHIN meet on a regular basis to talk about minimum requirements and standards. Together they work toward a consensus which will eventually benefit the patient and his or her health care.
Where the Benefits Really Count
In a day of computer hacking, identity theft and HIPPA regulations, is computer access to one’s personal medical records always a good thing? Marc Probst believes it is.
“I believe we’re taking every precaution possible,” he says. “Is their data 100 percent secure? No one can guarantee that.” But, compared to the security of a folder sitting on the shelf at a doctor’s office, an electronic file and its multiple security features offers more peace of mind, he says.
“[These systems offer] better care and better relationships between patient and physician,” he says. “The access by the patient is a comfort. I can understand [better what is going on.] It gives me comfort to have knowledge. It helps to build confidence and competence in the care being given.”