Previously, Zinn would have needed to visit various computer sites and travel to multiple floors at Regional Medical Center to track down all the information he can now access from a single location — be it the computer in his office, the one at his house or a smartphone.
After two years of work and months of employee training, the Anniston hospital went live Monday with the first phase of its multi-million-dollar electronic records system required by federal health care reform. It's a system that will improve the efficiency of nurses and physicians while increasing protection to patients from treatment mistakes, RMC officials say.
Zinn, who is the medical director for RMC, said he and several other hospital physicians have used the new system considerably this week.
"I'm impressed ... and we have some physicians who say they love it and appreciate being able to see all their patients on one list," Zinn said.
The Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law passed in 2010, requires that all hospitals must transfer their records to paperless electronic systems by 2014. RMC has spent approximately $11 million on its system but expects the federal government to reimburse about $6 million of that cost over a three-year period, said David McCormack, CEO of RMC.
As part of the first phase of RMC's electronics system, the hospital installed flat computer screens with keyboards beside the beds in all the patient rooms. The devices allow nurses and physicians to quickly look up a patient's medical records, recent treatments and view X-rays. Physicians can also use the system to order medication or issue orders to nurses about patient care. Nurses and physicians also have access to a mobile computer that can be wheeled around the hospital. A room filled with desktop computers is also available for physicians to use to access the system.
"You will see a continuity of care ... you will be able to see the patient's total history," said Chris Word, nurse manager for the observation unit at RMC. "In the past, you had to call to get medical records.
Additionally, a barcode scanner in each room lets nurses check medication to ensure it goes to the correct patient.
"If you scan the medicine, it will alert you right up on the screen and tells you if it’s for the wrong patient or should not be given at that time," Word said.
Word said the electronic system will also alert a nurse or physician if he or she is entering information for a patient improperly.
"There are real hard stops from a patient safety standpoint," Word said. "It's one of the reasons this is so important to us."
Zinn said he likes the increased efficiency that the new system brings.
"If I order a chest X-ray and a doctor has already done one, I can look at it on the computer and now ask, 'do I really need it'," Zinn said. "Before, I might have done another X-ray before finding out another doctor already had one ... now it's all more efficient in terms of saving money."
So far, all of the hospital's nurses and its five hospitalists — doctors who care only for patients in the hospital — have been fully trained on the system.
"We started with hospitalists because they are employed here and are here all the time — so they are our test group," said Hilary Folsom, spokeswoman for RMC.
Zinn said that within six months during the second phase of system's installation, the rest of RMC's physicians will be trained in using the new equipment and software. Also, by the beginning of next year, tablet computers will be used in place of old-style patient clipboard medical charts and more information will be available electronically, including physician consultations and discharge summaries.
Dr. Bakir Anouar, a hospitalist at RMC, said the new system has not been difficult to learn.
"Most of it is intuitive and doesn't require a major learning process unless you're not used to using any kind of technology," Anouar said with a laugh.
While Anouar appreciates the increased access to medical records and hospital efficiency the system brings, he is mainly glad it will make care safer for patients.
"The most important thing is to prevent errors and complications and morbidity in the hospital," he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.