When a patient is treated at multiple hospitals, attending physicians sometimes struggle to track down accurate medical histories. Faxes can be slow. Records at one facility might be outdated. Discrepancies could cause confusion.
But in the mountains of North Carolina, new technology is helping a network of hospitals share important information about their patients. Called WNC Data Link, the system lets authorized physicians and clinicians at 16 hospitals view a patient’s record electronically to learn about lab results, medications, radiology reports, discharge summaries and allergies.
A $1 million grant from The Duke Endowment and $2.5 million in federal funds went toward developing and implementing the system. Peak 10 in Charlotte provides hosting services; Medseek in Birmingham, Ala., was chosen for project management, software development and interfaces.
First System of Its Kind
Data Link was the first of its kind in North Carolina and South Carolina, and officials say hospitals across the country often call with questions about how it works.
“Physicians were frustrated because a patient would come into one hospital with a prior hospitalization, but the physician couldn’t get records from the other hospital,” says Dana Gibson, Data Link project director. “On a weekend, or at night, or even during the day, it could take hours to get that information faxed to them. With this system, the physician has data in five to six seconds.”
Four hospitals—Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde, Rutherford Hospital in Rutherfordton, and Transylvania Community Hospital in Brevard—participated in a Data Link pilot in early 2006. Other hospitals in the Western North Carolina Health Network were phased in over time. In June 2008, the 103-bed Park Ridge Hospital in Fletcher became the 16th facility to go live on the system.
By the fall of 2008, 45 percent of the 800 physicians enrolled in the network were using it regularly.
Steps Toward an Electronic Medical Record
By connecting inpatient, outpatient and emergency room systems at each of the hospitals, Data Link’s immediate goal is to exchange patient records across the region. But Gibson says that future plans include creating a complete view of a patient’s medical history by linking authorized users to records at physician offices, health departments, clinics and other health care providers. The long-term objective: Create a comprehensive electronic medical record for every western North Carolina resident.
Physicians say that having quick access to accurate information helps them provide better care.
“Before, getting records on a patient was a very time-consuming process,” says Dr. Stewart Trimble, a hospitalist at Transylvania Regional Hospital. “It would take sometimes two or three hours before you’d get records back from other places. And if we can’t quickly access a patient’s past medical history, it leaves us open to potentially making mistakes.”
Data Link can speed up treatment, Trimble says, especially in an emergency room.
“It’s a very useful, convenient tool—and it makes patients safer in the long run.”
Lin B. Hollowell III
Director of Health Care