CUMC Continues Quest for Improved Care With Digitized Records

By Roland Zemla

Amid growing paper stacks of patient charts, prescription notes, and physician orders, New York City hospitals have been flooded with medical information that has put excessive strain on the efficiency of health care delivery and patient management. For the Columbia University Medical Center, however, the classic patient-chart system may soon become an element of the past, as the center introduces major steps to fully digitalize its patient records.

With a few simple clicks of a mouse, the Allscripts record system, used by peer university hospitals, will let nearly 1,200 full-time physicians share patient charts, write prescriptions, order tests, and view lab results. This development, part of ongoing project by CUMC to better technological standards, will allow the center to integrate its existing Eclipsis system, initiated in 2006, with Allscripts as a rudimentary inpatient record system. The system will also extend access to another 1,000 independent practice physicians across the city.

“Our goal is to really improve patient care so that information will be available amongst all of our physicians so that if you see a particular specialist, your history and physical exam will be available to other providers in the future,� said Dr. Richard U. Levine, president of the Faculty Practice Organization, which was formed in the late 1990s to empower Columbia physicians to make decisions regarding enhanced patient care.

Levine discussed the FPO’s recent implementation of a system using online documents known as Electronic Health Records. While the interoperability of EHRs and widespread access to patient records by health care professionals are key components to enhancing patient care, Levine said the benefits extend well beyond this.

“Studies done elsewhere show that these kinds of systems reduce errors, improve safety, and can be more efficient for documentation,� said Dr. Gilad Kuperman, director of quality informatics at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, offering the example of “improved communication between physicians and nurses.�

Analysts also claim that a transition to the electronic system is more cost efficient. Still, experts at CUMC acknowledge that this was not the primary impetus in today’s market-driven health practice.

“There may be cost reductions, but I think that the primary reason for doing this is to improve quality of care,� Levine said.

The ultimate goal, according to Levine, is to give patients and physicians universal access to medical records.

“We are very excited because at some point we hope that patients will be able to have access to their health care records from any point in the world,� Levine said.

While physicians generally agree that the system will deliver greater efficiency, there exist concerns that the transition may not be smooth.

“Reactions from physicians have been mixed… these systems are complex and there are always some bumps along the way,â€? Kuperman said. “But, almost uniformly they [physicians] think that we should be doing these types of projects and ultimately it is just a matter of getting it right.â€?

The system will not be fully implemented until the end of the current year.

The medical center’s technological transformation has seen additional advancements in clinical research. A project is underway to introduce a clinical trials management system at the new cancer center and hospital called eResearch, according to Dr. Robert V. Sideli, chief information officer at CUMC.

“It [information technology] is going to be a way of the future and the hospital wants to be on the leading edge of that,� Levine said.

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