Canadian hospitals put wireless on critical list

Although talk about harnessing wireless applications in the health-care sector is “”passé in Europe”” where health-care professionals have embraced the technology, Canadian counterparts still frown on the use of cell phones in hospitals, said a doctor at a wireless forum in Toronto.

The

ban is probably due to their “”unwillingness to communicate with each other,”” Dr. Alejandro Jadad, director of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, University Health Network and University of Toronto, said at the INET-sponsored conference.

“”Patients and their family members could be the greatest allies in changing the system,”” said Jadad, noting the results of a survey of more than 1,000 patients conducted last year.

More than 80 per cent want to use the Internet to learn about diseases and gain access to lab results. More than 65 per cent are willing to communicate with their health-care professionals online.

Jadad said some of the excuses that are often cited as challenges to adopting a more electronic mode of health care include dealing with confidentiality of patient information, delivering return on investment, and contending with the health-care sector’s preference for alternatives ways of caring for people.

Dr. David Goldstein, medical director of the Kingston General Hospital acute pain management service and the Queen’s University anesthesiology informatics laboratory, urged more collaboration among patients, health-care providers, administrators, IT professionals and legislators to develop technological standards. He said the opening of an Ontario commission for technology standards in health care is long overdue.

“” If we don’t start to finally work together across the regional and national borders, we’re wasting our time,”” said Goldstein, also noting the Ministry of Health’s IT department is “”getting to the point they’re very frustrated”” about not receiving the resources needed to function more efficiently.

Goldstein and Kingston General Hospital have made attempts to introduce wireless services to patient care. After reviewing in 2001 how it did business in the acute pain management division, the hospital was troubled by the lack of information on patients, including prescribed medication, and incomprehensible patient charts that often led to mistakes, said Goldstein.

So it implemented a system in which an anesthesiologist entered patient names on a PC linked to a doctor’s handheld computer showing data like lab results, prescription information, EKGs and soon all X-rays, Goldstein explained. He said eventually doctors at the hospital will have a whole patient record in their hand.

 

Following more than 23,000 wireless assessments, the hospital has seen a 15 per cent to 20 per cent jump in productivity, a reduction in errors because of the retrieval of 60 per cent more information in 40 per cent less time, and more security and safety in the system.

“”You can’t do this in any hospital in Canada,”” he said, although there are plans to create a network of excellence in pain management in which patient information can be shared.

Kingston General Hospital has since developed a hybrid system drawing advantages from a handheld device’s lightweight nature and a tablet PC’s capacity to hold large volumes of data.

Dr. Sheldon Silver, a staff physician at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., has also considered ways to increase the use of wireless technologies.

In the treatment of diabetics, for instance, he said patients can use a phone loaded with a program and an ID number that allows them to enter and submit blood sugar readings to their doctor’s PDA. The information is date- and time-stamped. He said privacy is protected because there’s no other data identifying details.

“”It allows for mobility and efficient use of time,”” Silver said, adding that today diabetics record blood sugar levels in paper-based diaries that they show during visits to the doctor’s office.

He said using a wireless method will improve the doctor-patient relationship by allowing doctors to call and recommend drug therapies to patients who are “”not on track”” or call them in for a visit.

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