Technology improves health care in rural hospitals

Nov 2, 2012

Deborah Lockman is the informatics coordinator at Platte Valley Community Hospital in Wheatland.
Credit Bob Beck

Figuring out cost effective ways to upgrade rural health care is the goal of all hospitals and medical providers in the state. But it’s especially tough for the smallest rural facilities.  The numbers of doctors are small which can lead to mistakes and specialists are at a premium.  But thanks to electronic records and other forms of telemedicine… things are starting to improve.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.

(sound of hospital)

BOB BECK: This is Platte Valley Community Hospital in Wheatland.  The hospital is owned by Banner Health one of the leaders in the effort to get electronic medicine into rural areas.  Inside a nearby room sits the hospital’s Informatics Coordinator Deborah Lockman.  Lockman types in information that could be part of a massive electronic records system that has changed the way they do business.  If you are like a lot of us in Wyoming, you get used to repeating your medical histories over and over.  For that reason mistakes are made.  Under their system, those records are stored on computer and can be accessed by other providers if needed.

DEBORAH LOCKMAN: It helps when the patients come in, their histories carry over, their allergies carry over, however at the same time we confirm that information.

BECK: Medical errors have been a part of health care for many years.  But under this system, Lockman says errors are reduced.  For one thing, nurses and others have a better idea of what a doctor wants…

LOCKMAN: The physicians enter their orders that eliminates that need to interpret that handwriting.  There are several safety features that come from that.  There are alerts  that alert the physican while they are writing their orders.

BECK: In other words, if a physician starts to make a diagnosis, the computer alerts the doctor to check some specific things and even asks the doctor to double check things.  Then if they prescribe the wrong medication, they will also get an alert. 

Pharmacist David Burke says they have a similar system that helps them make sure that a prescription fits the patient’s needs and it checks to see that they are getting the right amount. 

DAVID BURKE: It’s eliminated a lot of errors or potential errors there’s no deciding if that’s an L, or that’s a 50 or a 500.  There’s checks and balances there didn’t used to be.  The human side or the human error potential is really diminished. 

Medical providers are equally thrilled at the Washakie Medical Center in Worland where they have an advanced system that the Hospitals in Wheatland and Torrington will soon be getting.  Nan Sutherland oversees some of the electronic medicine efforts in Worland.  She says they can use the technology to cross check to make sure they are treating patients properly.

NAN SUTHERLAND: We can pull information out and monitor and track the quality and level of care our patients are receiving and be certain the care we are providing is timely and is lining up with evidence based best practices.

This technology also can keep patients from having to be transferred to a larger hospital’s intensive care unit.  Banner’s Deb Dahl says they have devised a system where specialists can observe patients in intensive care and through technology monitor them. 

DEB DAHL: There are group of critical care docs sitting in Mesa, Arizona and they are monitoring patients in Worland, Wyoming at the Washakie facility there.  The technology that is linked to the electronic medical record looks for adverse trends and allows the clinicians to intervene before those adverse trends become adverse outcomes. 

BECK: Dahl says using two way communication and technology they are starting to use this technology with psychologists, neurologists and other specialists.

DAHL: Physician can be talking with the patient, can be talking with the patients provider or as a team and work through that assessment…provide medication…do all those things you can do in person, but do it with the telemedicine tool.

Washakie Medical Center’s Chief of Nursing Sherrill Sorensen says this will lead to a savings for everyone.

SHERILL SORENSEN: We are able to care for patients here in their own community where they are nearer their support systems.  And that of course decreases costs to the payer that is paying for the patients hospital care and is paying for the cost for the family to travel.

BECK: Dahl says this could be a game changer for smaller hospitals that are trying to survive, but do not have the ability to afford a specialist.  And for patients who may be able to get care locally.  But Dahl also touts the improved care that telemedicine can provide.  She says it is and will save lives in the future. 

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.