The Joys Of A Digital Emergency Department

Folks, tonight I was reminded of why supporters get stars in their eyes when they talk about how health IT can change the business. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was lovely to see a group of medical professionals using and perhaps even enjoying their EMR rather than finding it a burden.

I was visiting the emergency room of a hospital in my area with a family member, who was unfortunately having some symptoms I felt needed immediate attention. The family member, my spouse, was too groggy to share many details of his prior care.

Enter the hospital’s EMR. Since my spouse had been seen there before, the staff was able to pull up a history, medication list,  allergies, test information and more. (Another sweet aspect for the hospital was that our billing information and insurance data were already available as well.)

After triage, the nurse was able to set the caregiving wheels in motion effortlessly, from her desk. His room assignment, status and designated caregivers were instantly pushed to a huge screen hung in the center of the nurses’ station.

From that point on, most of the visit was standard, but it was hard to miss that virtually everyone seemed happy and comfortable with the software, and that virtually none of the process produced paper documentation.  Not too surprisingly, the 50-something doctor who saw Mr. R took pen-on-paper notes, but he was the exception.

My sense is that the hospital must have done an excellent job of training staff members, who were happily clicking away and seemingly, handling tasks far more quickly than they would with paper charts. Handoffs between nurses seemed to flow more quickly than I’ve seen elsewhere. Our doctor popped into my husband’s room within 5 minutes of his arrival, possibly due to luck but more likely due to efficient handling of patient flow by the administration.

So what? you may be thinking. Isn’t that what the technology is supposed to do? Well, yes, but it doesn’t work that way nearly often enough, as we all know.

My point is just that after having seen so many professionals struggling to make sense of their EMR — and hearing from countless others who fear the same result — it’s always good to see a smoothly-working implementation in place. I do get so tired of being a downer!

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • I feel the same way about feeling I’m being too negative over on my blog. However, I suppose blogs wouldn’t exist without something to complain about. 🙂

  • Katherine, interesting teaser of an article. Can you flesh it out at all? What system were they using? Had your husband visited this particular hospital or another within the system? (I’m always disappointed at how many hospital systems cannot share patient info between sites.) Did you discuss the EMR with any of the clinicians (particularly the pen-and-paper MD), or simply observe? Did you witness anyone who seemed frustrated with the system?

    Everything you describe is what every vendor promises. What, in your brief interaction with this ED, made this particular implementation such a success?

  • It’s always interesting trying to balance the positive with the negative. Although, I think the key to the most successful blogging is to be able to describe both the positive and the negative of everything. Then, you let the readers decide which part they agree or disagree with. There are very few things where you can’t find the good and the bad.

  • Hi Chuck:

    I can’t offer a lot more detail, as I was there in a personal capacity and didn’t get much of an IT tour. 🙂 But to answer what I can:

    * The hospital was using Picis technology, though I don’t know which modules of the Picis suite

    * Yes, Mr. R had been to this specific hospital before.

    * I didn’t get to discuss the EMR with anyone; I simply observed the staff interaction with a critical eye.

    * I did not witness anyone who seemed frustrated with the system, or seemed to need help from colleagues; actually, I got a sense of a happy energy among staffers. Now, that’s unlikely to be due to the EMR as such, but for reasons I can’t pin down, I have the feeling the system had a part in this.

    OK, now we’re down to your last question (what made the system a success), and it deserves a more thoughtful answer. Of course, I have only my instincts to go on, but from what I could glean as a consumer:

    * The interaction between the large display and the workstations seemed to be efficient. You could see people working through files quickly at the workstation and, from what I could tell, updating the master data that got posted on the big screen.

    As the status changed the busy nurses could get what they needed in a quick glance.

    * As noted, staff members seemed to be working quickly and comfortably, which suggests that the product(s) the hospital is using are fairly intuitive. I’d also guess that the IT folks were smart enough to phase the product in slowly and do plenty of training.

    * The hospital itself is highly ranked and seems to attract motivated people. In part, I believe the EMR is working because the professionals there aren’t dragging their heels.

    Lest I bore you with a novel based merely on quick speculation, I’ll stop there. But this was a very interesting experience.

  • Thanks for the detailed response, Katherine. Your correlation between the EMR and the motivated staff is interesting, and the role of the large display in the overall effectiveness of the system is particularly intriguing to me. I’m not sure what resources (internal or external to the hospital) exist to do something like this, but it sounds like this system and the people who use it could be the basis for a very educational and informative case study.

  • It’s refreshing to hear that in at least one hospital in the nation, things are coming together. Thanks, Katherine.

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