The pros and cons of Windows based Automated Patient Records

New York 19 August 1998 In the past, physicians and caretakers were rather reluctant to use computer based patient records systems because the first generation records software involved a great deal of typing and code memorizing to have the programme actually up and running. Currently, health care people are getting pretty familiar with the user-friendly point-and-click facilities of the Windows technology on their home computer. As a result, doctors tend to rely more often on clinical information systems, which are developed on a Windows platform. Vendors are closely following this evolution in order to meet the new user's requirements. Still, some experts have expressed their doubts on the scalability and network integration capacities of the Windows NT environments in health care practices and hospitals.

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In the past, physicians and caretakers were rather reluctant to use computer based patient records systems because the first generation records software involved a great deal of typing and code memorizing to have the programme actually up and running. Currently, health care people are getting pretty familiar with the user-friendly point-and-click facilities of the Windows technology on their home computer. As a result, doctors tend to rely more often on clinical information systems, which are developed on a Windows platform. Vendors are closely following this evolution in order to meet the new user's requirements. Still, some experts have expressed their doubts on the scalability and network integration capacities of the Windows NT environments in health care practices and hospitals.

Automated patient records are likely to reduce costs and improve the overall level of patient care. If the clinical records system provides easy to use folders and forms which can be manipulated through a simple mouse click, doctors can be more readily persuaded to substitute the old-fashioned paper records with innovative software. The electronic medical records offer physicians direct access to the required information at any time, anywhere, to make the right treatment decisions. Instead of delegating computer tasks to the administrative personnel, doctors should learn how to deal with the programmes, especially during patient encounters, in order to benefit from the decision support software capabilities.

Moreover, a Windows platform based computer allows caretakers to transfer information from one application to another. A supplementary asset forms the possibility to simultaneously execute multiple tasks or find information on the Internet or via an internal network through a simple Web browser. As a result, physicians can more or less smoothly interchange communications among applications. Health care organizations may equally decide to turn to network computers, which are able to run in a Windows environment. They provide both connectivity to electronic patient information and more than sufficient computing power while saving important costs in the maintenance of PCs.

A lot of health care institutions are switching to client/server networks in which PCs and servers are running on Windows platform based applications. It has taken some time for the vendors to adapt to this evolution but now they are eagerly responding to the customer's demands. Since Microsoft's packages network management software is available in one suite of tools, NT networks are less difficult and expensive to handle for network designers than Unix, for instance. As such, Windows has sort of become a standard in the field of electronic medical record software. However, it remains to be seen if these Windows NT networks are able to host the large enterprise wide systems, that are built nowadays. Scalability may turn out to be a weak point.

A second delicate issue constitutes the so-called back-end integration. In order to obtain a full-fledged electronic patient record with a smooth access to all relevant data and images related to a lifetime of patient treatment at various institutions, it is crucial to have a perfect data integration at the application and database level over the entire network. For this matter, combined efforts are necessary since no single company disposes of all the required applications to offer a seamless and ideally functioning automated patient record. Having a "pretty screen" at your disposal is not enough, the system has to provide the right information and applications during a patient encounter. To optimize the caregiving process, an efficient workflow procedure has to support the physician.

The speed of implementation plays a major role in the roll out of clinical software to multiple physician's practices. The shorter the learning curve of doctors and caregivers, the less expensive the software installation will be. As such, the automated patient record can signify an important return on investment and offer the physicians a wide range of benefits. Doctors will be able to receive more patients because less time is lost with looking for paper charts. No costs have to be spent on the transcription of dictated notes by a third party. Caretakers will be given the opportunity to conduct on-the-fly clinical research and to access patient information from home. All in all, the advantages seem to outweigh the weaker points which turns physicians more favourable towards the electronic medical record. You can read the full story on Automating Patient Records, written by Fred Bazzoli, at the Health Data Management Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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