Emergency room departments at some hospitals are seeing an uptick in worried patients complaining of flu-like symptoms. So IT is helping some of these emergency departments more easily track these patients.
The 400-bed El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., is among hospitals experiencing an increase in ER visits in recent weeks. With concern about an outbreak of the H1N1 virus developing in the region, the hospital quickly developed a tracking system to keep tabs on its emergency department patients presenting flu-like symptoms, including coughs and fevers above 100.7 degrees.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 403 human cases and one death in 38 states as of May 5. The CDC has been issuing updated guidelines daily in response to the rapidly evolving situation. This includes educating clinicians on how to identify and care for people who are sick with the H1N1 flu.
El Camino Hospital's tracking application is built on Microsoft's unified intelligence platform, Amalga, which the hospital began using last year to connect silos of transactional data from multiple, disparate clinical applications. In recent weeks, El Camino developed a new application built on Amalga to track ER patients with possible swine flu.
"Within three hours, we had a new tracking system, troubleshot it, and trained a clinical manager in the [emergency department] how to use it," said Dr. Michael Gallagher, the hospital's director of business intelligence and outcomes. The application allows emergency staff to easily create a "follow-up list" of patients to track even after they've been determined to be well enough to go home but are still awaiting lab results for swine flu testing. If a test comes back positive, the software application makes it easier for staff to quickly contact the patient. Typically, it takes about 24 hours for swine flu lab test results, he said.
Fortunately, none of El Camino's patients so far have been diagnosed with Swine flu, said Gallagher. "It's still the end of regular flu season, so some people who think they have swine flu, have that," he said. Recently, ER visits to El Camino have spiked, with a "peak surge" late last week when the hospital had about a 10% increase in patients complaining of flu-like symptoms, said Gallagher.
If a patient were to be diagnosed with swine flu and admitted into the hospital, the software would be used for that tracking, as well.
The Amalga application also allows the hospital to more quickly compile statistics that's been required by the Santa Clara County health department three times daily during the swine flu scare. Hospital staff use Amalga to create reports for the county health department containing about a half-dozen stats, including how many patients are being treated in El Camino's emergency department. Public health departments are using this information to plan which emergency departments in the region patients should go to for treatment in case an outbreak does occur or if any hospital becomes overloaded with patients, even unrelated to flu, he said. The data also is used for government public health officials to manage stockpiles of Tamiflu and other flu-treatment drugs, he said.
Without the tracking application, El Camino's emergency staff would have needed to create and manage ER patient lists of possible swine flu using "paper ink and spreadsheets," he said.
And while the Amalga application is helping El Camino track patients and compile real-time data for the county's public health department, some processes aren't as updated.
El Camino emergency staff still need to call in these new swine flu-related monitoring stats to the county's public health department.