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9/5/2012
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Children's Medical Center Dallas Gets Social

Social network lets patients and their families share stories and support one another.

Hanging out on a social network isn't what you'd expect seriously ill children to be doing as part of their treatment, but they are at Children's Medical Center Dallas. The private, not-for-profit facility launched a social network a year ago as part of its Children's Online Experience initiative.

With 559 beds in facilities on two campuses, Children's Medical Center Dallas is the fifth largest pediatric health provider in the nation. It's a Stage 7 facility, a distinction awarded by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society to recognize healthcare providers that have fully integrated IT into patient care and gone paperless.

The medical center's Patient and Family Social Network lets past and present patients, 13 years of age and older, and their families share stories and support one another. The network is divided into communities of patients coping with disorders in various specialties: gastroenterology, neurology, cardiology, and so on.

Carisa Weaver, a 13-year-old patient, uses the social network and other components of the Children's Online Experience to manage her insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes. "It's kind of cool that I'm not alone doing this," she says. "There are other people out there that can help me." Carisa's mother, Alice, describes the hospital's social network as "a little like an internal Facebook where we can organize our profiles the way we want to be seen."

Beyond Social

Patients and their parents also have access to a patient portal, called MyChart, where they can see test results, a list of medications, and alerts for appointments. They can request prescription refills, make appointments, interact with clinical staff through a HIPAA-compliant email system, and get information about insurance coverage.

Patients can also use the portal to tap into an extensive library of hospital-recommended educational material. They can message the hospital's clinic through the portal, and physicians can start one-on-one email dialogues as needed.

The 559-bed medical center has gone paperless
The 559-bed medical center has gone paperless

The portal provides access to remote care logs, in which diabetic children, for instance, can input blood glucose readings into the hospital's database. They can also input when they've eaten, as well as their dose of short-acting and long-acting insulin. That data can be accessed through the medical center's electronic health record system.

Children's Medical doesn't do a lot of custom work on its IT infrastructure. "We tend to not build systems from scratch but buy off-the-shelf, packaged solutions," says CIO Pamela Arora. That said, a good bit of customization went into development of the Children's Online Experience. The goal was to create a seamless user experience, including single sign-on. Arora's team used IBM's Collaborative tool suite, marrying it to the Epic EMR and Tridion's content management system.

The number of portal users is growing. In June, 268 new users registered and 3,800 unique users signed in. The vast majority of them were over the age of 18, indicating that the portal is attracting parents and older patients.

Children's Medical Center's social network, patient portal, and other IT initiatives are engaging patients in the process of getting and staying healthy. That's no accident. Using IT to deliver better pediatric care is part of the center's core tech mission, says Arora.

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