Feb. 16, 2012 Volume 33, No. 20
Doctors, patients wired for better health care
New electronic technology improves health communication
Kenneth Bunting’s Thanksgiving Day visit to the emergency room began as a nightmare of stroke symptoms. He had no balance, he kept falling and his speech was slurred.
After arriving by ambulance at University Hospital, Bunting, who directs MU’s Freedom of Information Center, did an unusual thing. He emailed his family-medicine physician to tell him he was in the ER.
The emergency ended well. Bunting, who has had diabetes for 25 years, learned his symptoms were caused by low blood sugar rather than a stroke. Relieved by the diagnosis, he now watches his diet and records his glucose levels more diligently.
Bunting’s approach to his health is an example of how electronic communication technology is improving between patients and doctors at MU Health Care. Before the Thanksgiving problem, Bunting had set up a patient health portal called Healthe, which is how he alerted his doctor, Karl Kochendorfer, to the emergency.
“I’m not the most facile person with technology, yet I realize the health portal’s potential, and I’m comfortable with it,” Bunting said.
Healthe is an MU Health Care online portal where patients and doctors can communicate with each other on health issues. Through Healthe, Bunting can ask his doctor a quick question online, request an appointment and review his lab tests. He can update a list of his medications and read summaries of medical visits.
He can even request a prescription refill, accomplishing in minutes what used to take much of the day.
Other providers caring for Bunting can access the information only with his approval. So if Bunting has a medical emergency while traveling, he can allow an out-of-state physician to read his electronic medical history.
The portal went live in March 2010, and in the next few months, portals will be available to all patients of MU Health Care. That includes university hospitals and clinics, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital, University Physicians and the Missouri Psychiatric Center.
Patients may request a Healthe account during a health care visit or sign up online at muhealth.org/muhealthe.
Because Bunting is diabetic, he and Kochendorfer also use MU’s Diabetes Dashboard, which allows an electronic review on a computer screen of a patient’s health conditions related to diabetes. The dashboard provides key indicators to chart a diabetic’s vital signs, health conditions, medications and laboratory tests. It also displays links to national standards of care for diabetes, providing helpful comparisons for patient and doctor.
MU physicians who tested the dashboard gave it high marks for efficiency in retrieving information and saving search time.
Electronic health records
Online portals like Healthe and Diabetes Dashboard are helping patients and doctors interact. Other electronic online services are helping doctors care better for patients.
Instead of reading paper charts, MU doctors retrieve updated patient information online, including diagnostic images such as X-rays and CT scans. They use laptops to document clinic visits. Physicians also send prescriptions and orders electronically to pharmacists, dieticians, therapists and other providers, who view them instantly.
The switch to electronic health records resulted in MU Health Care’s ranking as a 2011 Most Wired Hospital by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.
“We’re a long way ahead of most organizations,” said Michael LeFevre, chief medical information officer for MU Health Care.
— Excerpt from “High-tech health care,” published by Mizzou Wire. Story by Nancy Moen. Read the complete article at mizzouwire.missouri.edu.