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High-tech system helps track hospital patients

Fellowship Story Showcase

High-tech system helps track hospital patients

Picture of Mark Taylor
Post-Tribune
Monday, March 7, 2011

Once a white washboard with dry erasable markers kept track of the patients in the emergency room at Methodist Hospitals’ Northlake Campus in Gary. The board listed the staff on duty and noted the patients and their ER bed numbers.

Like so many other things in health care, that technology is outdated, replaced by a computerized tracking system produced by the Verona, Wis.-based company that created Methodist’s electronic health record and health care information technology system, EPIC.

Now when patients come to the emergency department, they are quickly prioritized by the severity of their condition, categorized and color-coded. Patients marked green are treated in what Methodist calls its fast-tracking area. Patients with non- life threatening conditions, such as cuts, bruises, falls and people suffering from colds and flus are treated more quickly at a lower cost, generally by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Patients coded red need to see physicians. Pink-coded patients have been seen treated and await the results of lab and diagnostic tests. After patients have been seen and administered medication, they are coded yellow, telling the ER staff the patients need to be visited before leaving. Those coded blue have been stabilized and await beds for inpatient hospitalization. The screen also tracks who which is admitted to the hospital and who is released.

The EPIC tracking system tells the age of patients and lists their complaints — shortness of breath, for example.

“Cold weather seems to kick in severe respiratory illness for older people,” said Emergency Department Nursing Manager Diane Schultz of DeMotte. “Before EPIC we’d have to request old paper charts on patients, assuming we had records. Now it’s all in there.”

Today’s patients have reported high blood pressure, a common occurrence in Gary.

“I’ve never seen so many stroke victims as this season and a lot of them are younger than you’d think. We’re seeing a lot of sick babies we’ve had to transport to Level II Trauma Centers in Chicago and South Bend. “Sometimes we have to send them all the way to Wishard (Hospital), a county hospital in Indianapolis.”

By 5 p.m. 24 patients were ensconced in waiting rooms and 18 were in the back being treated. It was an arcticly cold night and snow was predicted.

Schultz was trained at Methodist, left to serve as ER nurse manager at Community Hospital of Munster, then returned to her current position at Methodist. While Community’s ER records nearly 60,000 patient visits annually, twice Methodist’s volume, Schultz said Methodist sees many more acute cases and violent trauma patients.

“We treat a population with a higher level of acuity,” she said. “You really have to take care of them.”

Once patients leave the ER she said the social components of the health care system often come unglued.

 “We do discharge follow-up phone calls to ER patients the next day to check on them, ask about their care and whether they understood the discharge directions and have filled their prescriptions,” she said. “We try to set up doctor appointments for them, too.”