Electronic Medical Records Offer Improvements For Flowers Hospital

A simple and cost-effective computerized-patient-record system is helping to improve staff productivity and provide better patient care at Flowers Hospital in Dothan, AL. This 235-bed acute care facility serves as a regional hub for a community of 100,000 people in southeast AL, southwest GA and the FL panhandle. With the help of a Lake Charles, LA systems integrator, the hospital developed an electronic medical record storage and retrieval system that reduced the time needed to access medical records by more than 90 percent.

File Retrieval Issues
Flowers Hospital adds approximately 2.4 million documents to its patient record archives annually and AL state law mandates that they be maintained for eight years. These records - including test results, consultation notes, and discharge summaries - were stored in a secured area on the third floor of the hospital and also in a remote building. When requested for review by emergency or operating room staff, physical retrieval entailed delays of 20 minutes or more.

The systems integrator selected to work with the hospital's Medical Records Office (MRO) was DDI of Louisiana, Inc., a small firm that specializes in scanning and imaging. DDI provided a turnkey digital records solution that enables personnel at Flowers to locate and retrieve medical records within seconds. The MRO simply queries the computer system with a patient name or medical record number, and the system can access the complete history of patient visits and previous medical procedures, which are stored electronically in a CD-jukebox system.

The systems integrator chose the Infinidisc CD-jukebox, from Cygnet Storage Solutions, Inc., based on its large capacity, its price/performance value, and the manufacturer's reputation for reliable equipment and quality service. Infinidisc is a cost-efficient, modular CD-repository providing hundreds of gigabytes of storage. For Flowers Hospital, it was configured with three CD-ROM drives, one CD-recordable drive, and media modules accommodating up to 500 discs, providing storage capacity of 325 Gigabytes (GB). The standard, tray-load drives can be easily upgraded or swapped out as the hospital's needs change, or new technologies are developed.

System Development
DDI modified existing jukebox management software to accommodate multiple types of queries. The Infinidisc files and retrieves patient information by such criteria as date of hospital visit, social security number, and patient name. Access to the jukebox is handled by a PC server, which is integrated into the hospital's local area network (LAN). Requested records are sent via e-mail to the appropriate department, most often the Emergency Room.

DDI is now scanning medical record forms that date from two to ten years ago. This back record conversion, which included more than 10 million documents, was completed in June 1998. Using FileMagic software from Westbrook Technologies, the integrator records the images on CDs that are sent back to Flowers and placed in the hospital's jukebox.

The hospital began using the system in to access approximately 20 records per day. When all records are converted, it will provide as many as 50 accesses daily. In the long term, the hospital will only maintain paper records for one month before they are converted to the electronic system, and they will begin to integrate diagnostic imaging and business office records in the system.

While the solution at Flowers is relatively simple, it is readily scaleable to accommodate greater work flow, and integrate with existing hospital information systems. DDI is currently developing a similar application for another healthcare provider in Baton Rouge. This system will integrate diagnostic imaging, medical records and business office records, and it will incorporate expanded access, enabling physicians and satellite facilities to access patient data remotely.