ANNAPOLIS – A doctor just stepped off a plane and is about to head back to the hospital. Before he does, he pulls a wireless hand-held personal computer out of his pocket and signs onto the Internet. In minutes, he can check his patients’ vital signs, test results and fluid intake and output levels.
Within the next few months, that scene will become common in some Maryland hospitals, as they incorporate technological advances into ways of making doctors more efficient.
“The big payoff in all of this is really to liberate people from a lot of what takes up our time and effort and concentrate on things that we actually do better than any kind of system or machine,” said Dr. J. John Hong, director of Baltimore’s Good Samaritan Hospital’s residency program.
Greater Baltimore Medical Center launched a new system Friday that allows physicians to access their patients’ medical information from anywhere in the world over the Internet.
With security of medical records strongly in mind, the center requires passwords to enter the system, and technology augments even that. A doctor’s password, displayed digitally on a token attached to a key chain, changes every 60 seconds to increase security.
The data is encrypted as it travels over phone lines, although that still doesn’t eliminate the risk of the information being intercepted and copied in transit, according to the system’s manufacturer.
Good Samaritan is in the final stage of a pilot program where physicians and residents are provided with hand-held, portable computers that allow them to access patient information from anywhere in the hospital.
Although these devices are synchronized with the mainframe computer, said Hong, soon the hospital will expand the program to include wireless technology.
Privacy and security issues of these new technologies will be addressed by more federal regulations expected for release this fall.
Lee Ledbetter is on a team working to understand the implications of these regulations for Shared Medical Systems, the company that put together the systems for GBMC and Good Samaritan.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is just part of a “natural recognition that this information needs to be protected,” said Ledbetter.
The health care industry still has years before it must comply. Dan Emig, the technology marketing group manager for SMS, said regulations aren’t holding the industry back, but priorities are.
Emig said hospital officials, struggling with budget reductions, are asking, “Do I buy a new piece of radiology equipment, or do I buy this new network?”
These technological advances come at a time when hospital culture is corrupted with security and inefficiency issues, said Frank Brady, president of Brady and Associates, a hospital productivity improvement company.
Doctors are still handwriting orders that can be misplaced or misread. Hospital staffers fax documents between floors. Patients’ medical records hang right outside the examining room, with little concern for privacy.
Hong said he hopes hospitals will see technology as a way to change the culture.
And Tressa Springmann, GBMC director of software applications said, “It has the potential to minimize the amount of time that (patients are) waiting for answers.”