Innovative diabetes care with information technology


p>Diabetes cases are growing in number and diabetics require close medical attention. The Brighton Family Health Team, in Brighton, Ontario, is taking advantage of technology and improving treatment for its diabetic patients. By making a move from paper to electronic records, staff are able to provide improved care.

More than 5,000 patients are treated by the health team’s three doctors, two nurses, part-time social worker and five administrative staff. Using the technology, the team is provided with full practice support, such as patient scheduling, billing and medical records.

Electronic medical records are hosted by the secure Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) Ontario Network for e-Health (ONE®). The secure, high-speed, high-capacity network provided by SSHA ensures that medical records are safe and secure while access remains reliable. SSHA is responsible for hardware issues and security and upgrades to software, allowing the medical staff to focus on their patients without worrying about the technology.

Physicians with the Brighton Family Health Team are noticing many benefits already. “The quality of medical records has improved dramatically,” says Dr. Richard Wiginton. “A record can be set up for prompts, such as request that a patient come back for a diabetic follow-up in three months. It’s also a medical record accessible by all providers in a clinic setting.”

Staff have developed a diabetes management program that generates a list of patients who should be contacted and followed. They input lab information which allows them to conduct studies. They can find patients with high blood pressure to graph and track them. Patients benefit by having a high-quality medical record that is legible and tracks their care, such as phone contact with the office, prescription renewals and any third-party encounters.

The team follows close to 400 diabetic patients, who see the nurses every three months. Their progress is captured on individual flow sheets. “In doing that, we get all the preventive care done and we’re able to catch things ahead of time rather than have patients come in when either their blood sugar is through the roof or they’re having lows all the time,” says registered nurse Amber Christopher.

Using the computers in the exam rooms, doctors and nurses can show diabetic patients the flow sheets, which track their eye exams, foot exams, lab reports, blood pressure, urine checks, lifestyle and nutrition counselling. Patients appreciate this visual aid. “They like just to touch base with someone,” says Christopher. “They’re fully aware that I work right with the physician so everything that I put on their chart, the physician can see and vice-versa. It’s a holistic approach, which is great. The patients are responding well. It takes a load off the doctors, too.”

The move from paper to electronic files also provides instant access to relevant drug and disease information which benefits both doctor and patient. The system offers a full, regularly updated drug database and a program that checks for interaction with non-drugs, such as foods and supplements. It has an allergy database that checks drugs that cross with any allergies and provides alerts, allowing changes to be made at that time.

One of the benefits the new system provides for the physicians is that they can work from anywhere at any time and enjoy complete access to all charts. “This means I can do charting updates at home,” says Dr. Wiginton. “Most days I spend at least one hour at home, whereas before I sat at the office. I can sit with my dog and a cup of tea. I can check lab results over the weekend if I’m waiting for urgent information. I don’t need to phone the lab — I get the results directly from the system.”

Another benefit is the clarity of communications between medical professionals. Mistakes associated with old paper charts, such as poor handwriting, are eliminated with electronic medical records as well as prescriptions. “Prescriptions are fully legible. Pharmacists love it — there are no handwriting issues to deal with,” Dr. Wiginton says.

The team is hopeful the future will bring even greater electronic patient information sharing — with laboratories, hospitals and pharmacies. Given their innovative spirit to date, they can be counted on to be at the front of the line when that happens.

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