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Office computer gives physicians access to patients' hospital records


With a few keystrokes on his computer, Dr. Jed Rosen can get the results of laboratory tests for his patients at Carroll County General Hospital, learn what hospital room a patient is in and obtain a history of a patient's visits to the hospital.

Dr. Rosen, a Westminster otolaryngologist, is one of eight local physicians connected to Carroll County General Hospital's main computer system through computers in their private offices.

The pilot program, called Physician Access, is the latest phase of Carroll County General's computerization project.

Dr. Rosen, who has been linked to the hospital by computer for two months, is enthusiastic about the setup.

"I'm as happy as a pig about this thing," Dr. Rosen said. "I tell the other guys [doctors] I don't know how they can live without it.

"The information ranges from something as simple as what room a patient is in, to something as complex as seeing a list of every doctor that consulted on a particular patient," Dr. Rosen said.

The Physician Access program is part of the hospital's continuing overhaul of its computer system.

A new system, installed over the past three years, links the hospital's lab, radiology, pharmacy, dietary and therapy departments by computers.

The arrangement allows doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to call up uniform information on patients on any hospital computer terminal.

Physician Access allows doctors to do the same thing from their private office computers.

"What they see in their offices is exactly what the physicians see when they log onto a computer in the hospital," said Phil Stiff, a health care computer consultant working for Carroll County General.

Linda Harder, the hospital's vice president for marketing, said many hospitals are offering this service to physicians to make medical information more accessible.

To link private doctors' offices with the hospital system, hospital computer consultants installed the appropriate software in the physicians' office systems.

Doctors participating in Physician Access say the ability to instantly obtain patients' test results, medical history and personal information are the most useful features of the program.

"I can turn on my computer and get the [test] results directly," Dr. Rosen said. "It saves me an enormous amount of time and I can immediately get a hard copy of the results."

The link to Carroll County General's computer allows participating doctors to call up a patient's complete hospital history, including dates of admissions, the attending physician and the tests and procedures that were performed during each visit.

Westminster urologist Reynaldo Madrinan frequently makes use of this feature when he's called to the hospital for a consultation, said Dr. Madrinan's office manager, Bill Talbott.

can go and review a patient's history so he can see trends over time, and that has been very helpful," Mr. Talbott said.

Doctors say that having access to basic personal information on patients helps speed billing in cases where a doctor is called to the hospital for a consultation or an emergency room visit.

"They [the doctors] don't have to bother the patients over and over again" for basic information, Mr. Stiff said.

Doctors in the Physician Access program aren't being charged by Carroll County General for the service.

Ms. Harder said user fees haven't been worked out, but doctors will be charged for the service in the future. She estimated the software cost to be at least $500.

"The costs would vary depending on what equipment they already have," she said.

Doctors participating in Physician Access who are comfortable with computers say it has increased their efficiency significantly, Mr. Stiff said. But doctors who are fairly inexperienced in the ways of computers aren't as quick to realize the program's capabilities.

"Some aren't as attuned to doing things on a computer, so they're not as excited about it," Mr. Stiff said.

Carroll County General plans to expand the Physician Access program, but Mr. Stiff said many doctors don't have the computer equipment the system requires.

"Until all the physicians start moving to the 20th century in technology, it's going to be a battle to help them understand the value in the project," he said.

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