For the second consecutive year, Southampton Hospital has been recognized by the trade magazine Hospitals & Health Networks as being one of the nation’s “most wired” hospitals.
The distinction, which places an emphasis on securing patient information and reducing treatment errors through increased accessibility to patient history, is important to hospital executives as they aim to electronically link the entire Meetinghouse Lane Medical organization, which includes 22 satellite facilities and the main hospital building.
“Hospitals tend to lag behind, technology-wise, so this is a great award to be recognized with,” said Southampton Hospital’s chief information officer, Jim Maul, who explained that they were competing against similarly sized community hospitals for the distinction. “‘Most wired’ is certainly not something that we shoot for, but we have a strong focus internally on technology and how to better ourselves through it.”
Mr. Maul attributes winning the award to the hospital’s dedication to using health history information exchanges, or RHIOs, which is short for regional health information organizations. Health history information exchanges are online databases that various health care organizations feed into to share patient data. The goal of using such a database is to avoid misdiagnosing or improperly medicating patients by being able to see all of their previous history in real time.
“If a patient moves from one facility to another, even if it is out of our network, their records can be easily accessed by anyone else using RHIO without having to call other practices and get them to fax things over,” Mr. Maul explained.
But with added access to patient records comes added anxiety that unauthorized prying eyes will be able to know too much. “There are always concerns [about doctor-patient confidentiality] when you are sharing lots of information, but there will always be safeguards in place to limit the exposure of that data,” he said. “First, we have a process, that is actually mandated by the state, to get consent before we upload any info.”
Additionally, Mr. Maul explained there are different levels of access to the RHIO. “Doctors can see one thing, nurses may be able to see a little less, registration staff can see even less than that—so there are safeguards there as well,” he said. “There is a fine line between increased functionality and oversharing of data, and there is constant tweaking to make sure the line is where it needs to be. You can’t overexpose patients just to make life easier for the staff.”
The newly appointed CIO stressed that they don’t implement technological advances for show, but because they will in one way or another provide better care for patients.
“Every doctor that sees a patient, whether they are coming in from an ambulance and unresponsive, or simply need to get a new medication, gets access to their full medical history and can more accurately determine how to proceed with them,” he said.
Mr. Maul acknowledged that the goal of making each satellite facility integrate seamlessly under one network isn’t a reality yet, but thinks in six months, every facility will have the infrastructure in place to do so.
Beyond the patient databases, Southampton Hospital’s “single sign-on virtual desktops” were a factor in securing the “most wired” award. This program allows doctors to, with a swipe of their ID badge, instantly access their desktop and previous patient history sessions from any other hospital computer. “It is all about increasing efficiency and functionality,” Mr. Maul said, a common refrain about many of the more minor details he focuses on daily.
What’s next for the constantly upgrading technology sector of the hospital?
“There are these things called patient portals,” said Mr. Maul. “It is the early stages of electronic interaction between patients and doctors, and in the not-too-distant future, I see patients regularly being able to video-chat with their doctor for a diagnosis.”