Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Healthier Performance for IT

Healthier Performance for IT By: Dennis McCafferty
Whether with digital pens for nurses or "smart" ambulance-routing systems, IT companies are helping doctors and other health care providers when it comes to providing better—and often life-saving—treatment for patients.

The quality of our nation's health care is Topic A for many Americans today. Even with lawmakers passing a massive health care reform bill earlier this year, there's much uncertainty about the subject. But, fortunately, IT companies have remained highly active in improving the way doctors and other health industry practitioners have done their jobs—regardless of political shifts. Here are several solutions that are making a difference right now:

LifeTrac. When a patient is experiencing a stroke, heart attack or other trauma-related emergency, timing is everything. But, too often, ambulance crews are routed to hospitals that are the closest geographically to patients, without taking into consideration their current capacity and available resources. With LifeTrac, emergency department staff use a dedicated workstation connected to a private computer network to share the availability of their resources. EMTs contact the central communication center to access this information and match the patient with the best hospital. The system can tell EMTs whether the closest hospital is too busy to adequately treat a patient, and which alternative hospitals are available and not operating at maximum capacity. Patient info is then automatically forwarded to the receiving hospital. So far, results are more than encouraging: In Central Alabama, LifeTrac has been credited for cutting the death rate in severe trauma cases by 12 percent.

Anvita Health. Anvita is developing what it calls a "clinical analytics" software solution, a tool designed to mine and analyze medical data to uncover new insights and improve the quality of health care. It can access millions of data points within subsecond time involving health insurance claims, electronic medical record data, lab reports, prescription summaries and other information. It's the kind of solution that can, for example, alert a pharmacist that a proposed medication could conflict with a patient's allergy and guide the pharmacist or doctor to a more appropriate alternative drug treatment. It can also provide an extra layer of analysis in a hospital setting. For example, by ranking diagnostic-imaging tests for their effectiveness and safety on an individual patient-by-patient basis, the system can support staff decision-making about what to order.

Anoto Digital Pen Technology. When nurses make their rounds in long-term care facilities, they often take detailed notes. With the Anoto solution, they write down patient information using what looks like a standard ballpoint pen. But it's actually a digital pen, with an advanced image microprocessor and a mobile communications device for wireless connection. By capturing normal handwriting digitally, the patient information is automatically converted into data for health care network systems. The solution is being used by long-term care facilities in states such as Arizona, California, North Carolina and Wisconsin. It improves patient care by making it easier and faster for health care workers to communicate problems they encounter at bedside, which in turn allows for faster preventative action to be taken.

Ignition. This iPhone app allows doctors to access vital patient records on the road. It's essential for physicians like Dr. Aka Gvakharia of Cardiology of Virginia, who is always en route because he covers three hospitals and two health systems in greater Richmond. The solution allows users to access data from their PCs or Macs via an iPhone with optimal speed, security and reliability across 3G and WiFi connections. In Gvakharia's case, he routinely accesses case files while walking in hospital parking lots, which arms him with the patient information he needs before he even walks into the ER. "When it comes to cardiac care, time and information are both critical," says Gvakharia. "With Ignition, I can quickly access the records that are on my office PC, look at prior EKGs and echocardiograms, and review prescriptions. This gives me the information I need to decide the best course of action."

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