DMC Live: Disaster Proves EMR’s Future is Now

Friday, September 23rd, 2005
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Guest Blogger: Patricia Donovan

Note: This week, HIN reports live from the Disease Management Congress in Orlando, Florida.

Orlando — Electronic medical records (EMRs) for all Americans may be years away from fruition, but the recent Gulf Coast disasters have moved this issue up on the national agenda. With most medical records destroyed and many of the one million persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina in need of medical care, the Intel Corporation and other companies rapidly fashioned rudimentary EMRs from health claims databases.

Mark Blatt, director of global healthcare strategies, Digital Health Group for Intel, described the process for the 10th annual Disease Management Congress today. “We quickly scanned claims databases to put something in place. There were many individuals being moved from one rescue center to another without any medical records. Some individuals would receive a tetanus shot at each center. Things were so chaotic the individual did not know which shots they were receiving. After three tetanus shots, some were getting sick.” The EMRs helped give some order to the process, he said.

Broadband wireless—also known as WiMax— is another technology on the horizon that has been instrumental in improving communications in the aftermath of recent disasters. WiMax can cover areas of up to 35 kilometers (approximately 15 miles), he explained. Communications companies set up WiMax towers during relief efforts on the Gulf Coast and in the recent Indonesia tsunami disaster.

These disasters and the associated loss of medical records have been a wake-up call for both the government and the healthcare industry, Blatt continued. The movement toward a national health information network is accelerating; the federal government just six days ago announced the formation of a committee to develop standards for this effort. With public pressure on, Blatt expects that this network will be viable in the next five or 10 years, if not sooner.

Technological advances are also changing the face of healthcare delivery. We will soon see the use of “smart tools”—wireless patient monitors, IV pumps, even hospital beds—that can talk to each other and provide a “closed loop feedback system.” This technology will change the way a hospital room looks and can be transferred to homes for continued patient monitoring, he said. We may even see these monitoring capabilities as a value-added offering at many hotels, Blatt predicts.

“These tools can get real-time data and process the data into meaningful information for the patient, family and caregivers,” he said.

Some tools being piloted by Intel to improve quality of care and get and keep patients healthy include the “presence lamp”—a light that goes on in one home when a friend or relative arrives at another home; “contextual caller ID” that provides a caller’s photo, background and even a summary of the last telephone conversation with the caller to aid recall for the elderly and early stage Alzheimers’ patients; and a “social health solar system,” a PC-based network to track family members’ contact with elderly parents.

In the face of rising healthcare costs, these monitoring tools are designed to allow the sick and/or elderly patient to remain in their home longer, limiting nursing home stays and the depression that may accompany it, he concluded.

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