Hospitals Surf the Wireless Wave – Nebraska Leading the Way

Imagine this scenario: You’re at the doctor’s office for a routine checkup, and the nurse whips out her laptop to take your vital signs. Can’t connect the dots? Well, sharpen your pencils, because hospitals are becoming one of the newest industries to join the wireless world, and Omaha, NE, is leading the way.

Going digital at Omaha’s Methodist Hospital has taken the jigsaw puzzles and 70 percent of paperwork out of patient records. It’s increased efficiency for health care workers by providing immediate access to patient histories, thereby decreasing medical mistakes — and that’s priceless.

And while this setup won’t match the national deficit, getting hospitals “wired” will take some serious bucks — to the tune of $276 billion over 10 years, according to a report issued by the Center for Technology Leadership, an outfit affiliated with several Boston hospitals.

Though more than two Nebraska hospitals are already “connected,” including Omaha’s Lakeside Hospital, administrators haven’t yet determined the costs of establishing a statewide network — but the glow is in their eyes.

The ultimate idea is to provide a “telehealth” network that will link hospitals, clinics, public health departments, and labs statewide — an idea that the federal government may even assist in funding.

Late last year, when Methodist Hospital began converting their records — from patient registration to billing — several area health care institutions took note — and some are following suit, even into Western Iowa.

The ability to download X-ray films to digital images; automatically “flag” patient records for allergies; scan barcodes on hospital “bracelets” to determine the exact medication and dosage for each patient; and pull up test results on laptops — all with just a few notebook keystrokes — is now a reality.

And though the network is costly, the potential for savings will be high — making this one situation where you really get what you pay for.

By Catherine Van Herrin

Friday, March 04, 2005