Technology advances help ERs become more efficient and more helpful to patients

2013-09-18T11:45:00Z 2013-10-31T13:52:57Z Technology advances help ERs become more efficient and more helpful to patientsJennifer Pallay
September 18, 2013 11:45 am  • 

Advances in emergency room technology can lead to quicker, smoother and sometimes life-changing visits for patients. Changes range from electronic medical records at a physician’s fingertips to an in-room ultrasound used to more accurately diagnosis a patient.

Daniel Kowalzyk, a full-time board certified ER physician at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, said technology surrounds patients when it comes to the ER and it sometimes starts making a difference before they even leave home.

St. Mary’s recently launched InQuicker, a way for patients to hold their place in line from any online device. The process starts when a patient, with a non life-threatening, debilitating or emergent medical complaint, checks in online. They are given a projected treatment time and can even be notified via phone or e-mail when there is an emergency room delay, according to the company’s website.

It’s is an effective system for seeing patients with minor complaints, said Kowalzyk, who is also the ER medical director at St. Mary. Someone suffering from a sore throat or a working mom who isn’t able to take her children into regular office hours, can be accommodated by making an appointment.

“You do your waiting at home instead of sitting in a waiting room for two hours,” Kowalzyk said. He said the system is evaluated regularly and patients who use it, love it.

Other local medical facilities also using this online waiting technology include Ingalls Family Care Center in Calumet City, Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey and Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, according to

New EKG technology can also help doctors and hospital staff plan ahead. Kowalzyk said all local paramedic teams can now do an EKG within seconds of getting to a patient. A doctor can then determine if a patient is having a heart attack before he or she arrives at the ER. If a heart attack patient is coming, they can issue the proper code to have everything ready in advance.

Technology helps doctors in the ER treatment rooms as well, he said. Instant portable ultrasounds are now commonly done on hearts, stomachs and more.

“We now use it like a stethoscope,” he said. It makes the providers more accurate in what they do.

Electronic medical records, also known as EMRs, are also a big help to doctors who can access patient records from any hospital point, even from their smart phones at home.

“It has really mobilized the ability for doctors and professionals to evaluate patients and review,” he said.

Travis Thatcher-Curtis, Emergency Department clinical manager and EMS coordinator at Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City, also praised the electronic medical record system. He said it is the most important technology used in the emergency room today. St. Anthony Health went live with its system, known as Epic, in August 2012.

Prior to that, the department was still documenting everything on paper, a process that Thatcher-Curtis said led to many organizational problems within individual patient’s chart and within the chart system as a whole.

“We also had the issue of finding the chart when we needed it. Sometimes the physician had it, other times the nurse, and then there were the times it would be set down somewhere other than where it should have been causing staff to waste time searching for it.”

Hospital staff would then keep notes in their pockets regarding patient care so that when they had time to document and the chart was available, they would have them to reference. Once the patient was discharged, medical records would then scan all of these documents into a document viewer application and store the hard copies in compliance with hospital regulations.

With the transition to an electronic records, all of these problems were instantly resolved, Thatcher-Curtis said. Granted.

“It brought on problems of its own, but most of these have been overcome as well or are minor compared to the benefits that an (electronic record) offers.”

Staff now has access to any patient charts at any time by logging onto a workstation, he said. Everything documented in the chart is available to reference as soon as it is recorded, and all of the information including lab values, diagnostic reports and assessment notes from not only the current visit, but from all previous visits is now contained within the record and accessible when needed.

“We now have a tool at our disposal that gives us what we need to make often times critical decisions regarding a patient’s care in a much more timely and efficient manner than before,” he said.

Janet Doms, regional director of emergency services for the four hospitals in Franciscan Alliance’s Northern Indiana Region, said their group of hospitals also uses technology to help streamline the ER process for patients.

“We’re trying to move patients out as quickly as possible,” she said. “People don’t want to be in the emergency room any longer than they need to be. We have a process where if we have an open bed, they go directly to the room if we have one available when they arrive. We’ve kind of changed our processes to get the patient in front of the physician as soon as possible.

“Patients experience medical emergencies every day,” she said. The staff looks at historical data to predict when patients come to ERs in general and develops staffing plans based on the data. Unfortunately, there are also times when several patients may unexpectedly present at the same time.

“It is important to plan ahead for these times,” Doms said. “Staff must prioritize the sickest or most injured patients as well the interventions required for patients.”

When patients present with chest pain, the providers try to complete an EKG within 10 minutes and if they are experiencing a heart attack, there are processes in place to evaluate them and send them to the catheterization lab where the cardiologist performs a procedure to open the affected heart vessel within 90 minutes.

“There is evidence that when you are able to do this, patients have better outcomes,” Doms said.

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