Sparrow: The Future of Medicine Meets Cyberspace
Paperless medical charts, virtual hospital tours and online patient Web journals may seem like a futuristic vision of health care. But at Sparrow Hospital and throughout Sparrow Health System, information technology advancements are moving at warp speed, creating the healthcare of tomorrow for the benefit of today’s patients and their families.
Information technology that just a few years ago seemed avant garde to doctors, hospitals, labs, clinics and insurers is rapidly becoming a necessary medical tool to help streamline operations, reduce errors and improve the patient experience.
One example is paperless charting, which Sparrow has been gradually implementing for the past two years. Having up-to-date patient medical records in an electronic format that can be accessed anywhere, anytime is a tremendous advantage in providing high quality patient care.
“It’s really a wonderful time saver,” said Sheena McGuckin, RN, who can view her patient’s vital signs, medications and diagnostic test results from a bedside computer screen. “While we are at one patient’s bedside, we can keep an eye on the status of our other patients. We also can access a patient’s chart at any time. We don’t have to wait until someone else is done with it.”
Regional cooperation for good health
Another major endeavor currently underway will consolidate thousands of patient records into a secure, regional database. This regional health information organization (RHIO), a collaborative enterprise involving Sparrow and many other healthcare entitities, will provide authorized area doctors and other health professionals access to secure patient information from anywhere with a few keystrokes.
When providers have access to a patient’s comprehensive medical data, they are able to deliver better care. For example, when a patient arrives at Sparrow’s Emergency Department, the staff can consult patient records and rapidly determine whether the patient has any known allergies to antibiotics or other medications. Electronic patient records also list current prescriptions as well as previously diagnosed conditions that may be contributing to the patient’s symptoms.
After discharge from the hospital, a patient’s primary care physician can access the inpatient record to see exactly what transpired and continue appropriate care. Specialists and primary care providers will be able to consult while looking at the same up-to-date medical record at the same time—even if they are miles apart.
“The time is right for mid-Michigan’s healthcare partners to connect with one another so that critical patient information is not locked within each hospital or physician office,” said Sparrow President Dennis Swan. “When completed, the RHIO will be a major breakthrough in providing fast, accurate and comprehensive medical information to doctors, nurses and other caregivers.”
Bringing people closer together
Information technology also is being used in innovative ways to make a patient’s visit more convenient and stress free. Sparrow’s newly opened orthopedic unit offers virtual tours on the Sparrow website. Potential patients can view a patient room, the rehabilitation gym, nurses station and even the soft drink machines down the hall.
Another patient program that will begin this summer involves secure Web pages where patients can create a virtual meeting place for friends and family members. These “Healing Pages,” as Sparrow has tentatively named the site, will help families stay connected, informed and supported.
“When a loved one is hospitalized or receiving care it can be difficult to communicate, especially if family or friends live far away,” said Carol Forsberg, RN, who is heading up the hospital task force to develop Healing Pages. “With Healing Pages, updates are shared via e-mail automatically, and visitors can leave messages for the patient and family on the Web page. It can give patients and their loved ones an emotional lift that is hard to deliver any other way.”
“The high-tech advances at Sparrow Hospital demonstrate how information technology can span and unify all phases of health care,” said Ron Swenson, MD, who serves as vice president and chief information officer. “Still, we are merely scratching the surface of what it will do. In 10 more years, we will be unrecognizable from where we are today.”
At the rate Sparrow and other progressive healthcare organizations are embracing the new information technology, the future is now.
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Dr. Ron Swenson is vice president and chief
information officer for Sparrow Health System.