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FINGERTIP ACCESS PUTS ST. MARY'S HOSPITAL ON CUTTING EDGE

Need an appointment at St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center? Just point and click.

Need to learn how you should be preparing for a particular test or procedure? Sign on from home and read at your leisure.

Does your doctor need your test results immediately? All she has to do is type in a password and look on the screen.

Medicine and technology are being married at St. Mary's this month, through the new program for physicians called Common Access, and through a new interactive Web site for the public that is set to go online this week.

With Common Access, all a physician needs is a personal computer and access to the Internet, and he can point and click to get test results any time of the day, any day of the week from anywhere on the planet.

"This truly is a giant leap forward in the delivery of health care," said Marcia M. Traverse, hospital spokeswoman. "It can be 11 p.m. and the doc can be at home or at Aunt Tillie's, and if he has an Internet-accessible PC he can see the results of your mom's latest blood work that he ordered at 9 p.m., instead of waiting until the next morning. He might want to change mom's medication or therapy. Or, a physician can get the test results of his patients before he even comes in for morning rounds."

Common Access gives physicians control over when they can view test results, said Bernadette Franjoine, director of laboratory services and a member of the interdisciplinary Common Access Implementation Team. And, it gives them the ability to change treatments immediately rather than waiting until the next day.

The system also gives a history of patient test results, so a physician can instantly track changes or trends. It also contains insurance and employer information and who to contact in case of an emergency.

"The one thing physicians have said to us is it's going to save hours upon hours within their offices," said Richard Witkowski, director of information systems and a member of the team.

Dianne Schultz, nurse coordinator, said the team took four or five months to make certain plenty of safeguards were in place to ensure that the confidentiality of patients' medical records would not be compromised.

"We wanted to be able to deliver care as fast as possible to them, give the physicians the tools they need and our clinical support staff, but in the meantime protect our patients. This system does it all for us," Schultz said.

Scott Alex, network manager, said authorized medical staff inside the hospital will access the information through an internal Intranet system. He and Ronald Smith, health information manager, said only physicians or members of their office staffs will use the Intranet.

Every function a user performs in the system is 100 percent trackable. The system uses the same type of encryption used for credit card transactions on the Internet. Information can be printed out but it is not stored in the individual terminal's hard drive, Witkowski said.

Physicians and their staffs must sign a confidentiality agreement before being trained. If hospital staff members get caught giving out confidential information, they get fired "no ands, ifs, or buts," Witkowski said.

The system was developed by Ascension Health, the national health care system that is St. Mary's sponsor. Witkowski said what sold the hospital on the system was it made clinical information easily accessible, very simply and very inexpensively. The system cost $50,000. Commercial systems cost upward of $1 million and can require special communication lines, hardware and software, he said. There is no cost to the doctors for installation or education.

Training takes under 30 minutes per person. About 250 medical staff members were trained last week. Installation and training in physicians' offices is now beginning.

Common Access is being used by five hospitals in the Ascension Health system and eight more are installing it. Witkowski said physicians log in an average of six times a day and each person that logs in performs an average of six different functions. There are no busy signals or waiting for a staff member to become available to find the results. Average response time is 12 seconds.

While the technology is cutting-edge today, team members said they expect it to keep advancing. Within about two years, physicians should be able to come in for rounds, place a palm pilot into a cradle and download patient charts. They'll also someday be able to make their notes on the palm pilot right at the bedside and download their orders back into the system.

Patients, too, will be able to use the technology to access their own medical records under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

While that's still two years away, patients will still get the benefit of connecting to the hospital through the Internet this week when St. Mary's goes on line at www.msmh.org. The web site will contain all of the usual information that has become common on such sites with some interactive twists.

Need to schedule a test? Click and do it by e-mail. Want to find out if you have to do anything special, such as stop eating or drinking beforehand? Click on the procedure and the instructions will come up. Want to register for a class? E-mail your reservation. Don't know where the hospital is? Click on a map. Don't know how to get there. Type in your address and personalized directions will pop up.

The Web site also will allow you to send greeting cards to patients. The cards will be printed up and delivered by volunteers. Want to be a volunteer? You can fill out a form and e-mail it. The hospital plans to post job openings and applications can be sent on line.

William D. Pike, president of Western New York Health Care Association, a trade association that represents all of the hospitals and other health care providers in the eight counties of Western New York, said the use of technology in health care will continue to grow. He predicts that soon patients will have laptops in their rooms along with televisions and telephones. They now are being tested at a number of hospitals around the state, he said.

Pike said Web sites are a smart marketing tool for hospitals.

"If you can click on a Web site and get information from a hospital in your neighborhood on staying well, it creates a bond and someday if you need a hospital you think of them. Providing information on wellness is what we should be doing. It's part of an overall trend that is shifting from a 'sickness' system to a wellness system in health care delivery. Our hospitals for years really haven't being doing anything to keep people well. Their primary emphasis was to treat them when they got sick," he said.

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