Keesler's emergency room first in Air Force to use electronic medical records system

Capt. Sarah Abel, an emergency room nurse, reviews the patient status board.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

Capt. Sarah Abel, an emergency room nurse, reviews the patient status board. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, BILOXI, MISS. -- Keesler Medical Center has introduced a unique system in its emergency department.

The staff began using electronic medical records -- T-System -- Jan. 15 to become the only emergency department in the Air Force with the capability.

According to Capt. Scott McKee, an emergency room clinical nurse specialist and project officer for the program, the system makes medical records available in "real time."

"If a patient returns to the ER, the provider can review prior visits," the captain pointed out. "We can also make records available to any medical treatment facility in the Department of Defense, allowing them to see the record of anyone seen here. This has never been possible before."

The captain said continuity of care is a major benefit of the system.

"Primary care managers can see what treatment we provided and are able to design appropriate follow-on care," he noted.

After a patient is seen in the ER, the staff uploads the record into AHLTA, the electronic system used by military providers, allowing providers to see everything that was done.

"This is currently done manually," Captain McKee said, "but we hope to be able to do it electronically within the next year if DOD approves the concept and the necessary interfaces and network access are completed."

Using electronic records also assists the ER staff to better manage patient flow through the department. As soon as a patient checks in, their information is placed onto a status board.

"This contributes to patient safety, particularly when prescribing medication. The entries are easy to read; the staff doesn't have to try to decipher handwriting," the captain said. "Patients also receive more comprehensive discharge instructions."

Captain McKee commented it took the staff about 10 days to become proficient using the system. He noted that about two weeks after the system came on line, the department saw one of its greatest volumes of patients in some time, yet the average length of stay in the department was reduced by about 20 minutes.

"We are now able to run reports to show our busiest times and can staff the department appropriately," he added.

The captain praised the department's staff for the way they adapted to the new process and expects the system to improve incrementally as DOD allows more interfaces.

"We eventually will go wireless so the staff will be able to use tablets and mobile computers to make annotations in the patient treatment rooms," he concluded.

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