Technology is bringing care providers and patients closer together at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Two high-tech systems are improving the delivery of medical care while enhancing human communications.
YVMC's Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit are collaborating on a monitoring system that will begin replacing aging technology next month. Using bedside monitors and portable telemetry units, the system will register patients' vital signs and relay data to a central station.
"We chose this system because it is user-friendly technology that a bedside nurse can easily maneuver through," YVMC Director of Emergency Services Paula Golden said.
"The portable telemetry units have a wireless connection to a monitor. This will allow us to collect data even when a patient is in a different department getting a diagnostic test or is being transferred to the patient care unit," Golden said.
Saturday's 5th annual Penguin Plunge fundraiser, sponsored by the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley, has earmarked the event proceeds to help purchase the monitoring equipment.
Down the hall in YVMC's patient care unit, doctors are starting to use new technology that is replacing pen and paper.
"We started phasing in online documentation in February," Medical Staff Services Coordinator Heather Skinner said. "We are working one-on-one with physicians and have already oriented half of the doctors who treat inpatients at YVMC."
By next year, charts that trace the course of a patient's stay will be mostly computerized. Illegible handwriting and a single-location paper charts will disappear.
Skinner points to several advantages of electronic documentation, including patient safety and caregiver efficiency. YVMC Director of Case Management Kady Watson agrees.
"This is a huge bonus for patient care and patient safety," she said. "It is very quick and easy to log on and view the plan of care for each patient.
"Every physician uses the same format, and has to enter the same kind of information," she said. "We won't have to find the paper chart - which might be in another department if the patient is getting a diagnostic test - and flip through it searching for information. We can be right at our computers and see everything."
Kevin Borgerding, M.D., a Steamboat Springs internal medicine specialist, was one of the first physicians at YVMC to use the new system. He agrees with Skinner and Watson about its advantages.
"The most obvious benefit is that the notes are readable to everyone," he said. "All health care providers have instantaneous access to the chart, no matter what department they are in."
Patient charts can be viewed remotely throughout YVMC and even in physician offices. Borgerding uses the technology during follow-up visits after his patients have received care or diagnostic tests at YVMC.
"I can access the patient's records electronically and show everything in the chart," he said. "We can sit down together in my office and view X-rays so the patient can really see and understand the diagnosis."
When nurses, pharmacists, laboratory techs and other hospital care providers add patient notes to the electronic chart, the attending physician reads them via computer. Skinner said the system can "push" the notes to the attention of the doctor, if the person writing them feels they are important enough to do so.
"We are replacing the sticky note or highlighter marker which we now use on the paper chart to emphasize vital sign changes or new test results," Skinner said.
Watson recently used this feature to alert a physician and help a patient.
"This week, a patient told me about a medication he had been taking. I entered the information in the chart and pushed it to the doctor's attention," she said. "The system requires the doctor to open and acknowledge the message, so I know that the medication was ordered that day."
Physicians have been receptive to the technology and have proven to be fast learners, Skinner said. One doctor reported that just three days after learning the system, she had finished a lengthy online documentation in less than three minutes.
In addition to saving time, standardizing reports and centralizing data, computerized technology is enhancing the human aspect of health care at YVMC by connecting caregivers with each other and their patients.
"Online documentation helps with our communications," Borgerding said. "It has cut down on phone calls and the time spent by providers trying to reach each other to share important information. It helps facilitate care and increases patient satisfaction."
Christine McKelvie is public relations director at Yampa Valley Medical Center.