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These hospital helpers don't have candy stripes

It has only been a few weeks, but Lynn Houshmand already can see a difference.

Houshmand is coordinating a program at South Bay Hospital designed to computerize patient records, eliminating the need for stacks of paper charts.

So far, she has heard nothing but good things from doctors.

"I'm hearing, "Gee, this is great. It's taken me less time to do the paperwork, yet it's as complete, if not more so, than when it is on paper,' " she said.

Doctors at South Bay and several other local hospitals recently began using a new fleet of portable computer workstations that can move from bedside to bedside to create electronic databases of patient information.

The move isn't exclusive to South Bay. Its parent company, HCA Inc. of Nashville, has instituted the program at such hospitals as Brandon Regional Hospital and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

The goal is to streamline the patient care process by combining all of a patient's records into one computer file, eliminating hospitalwide searches for paper charts and records, which can draw out even minor hospital visits.

"It definitely is considered something that can improve safety and efficiency of patient care," said Brandon Regional Hospital spokeswoman Deb McKell. "I think the organization as a whole is looking forward to it."

Doctors at South Bay went online Oct. 12, following seven months of preparation, including three weeks of documenting patient records both on paper and electronically using a secure offsite server.

So far, there have been no problems with the new system, Houshmand said.

South Bay Hospital has 47 portable workstations and eight new stationary computer workstations. Brandon Regional has a number of workstations up and running in its critical care and surgical areas; when the program is fully up and running, doctors there will have 152 workstations at their disposal.

HCA would not reveal how much the systems cost, McKell said.

Physicians and specialists in most wings of South Bay, from the intensive care unit to the rehab center, will be able to view changes to patient charts in real time.

"Multiple people can access the patients' records at the same time, so there's no more nurses at the nurses' station saying "Where's the chart?' " Houshmand said.

McKell said Brandon Regional's newest building, a five-story patient tower set to open Dec. 9, will be equipped with the computer workstations.

"The goal is to have everything online," McKell said.

But two things must happen before the hospitals can completely convert to electronic documentation, Houshmand said.

The first step will come in about six or eight months, when nurses and physicians will begin administering medication through the system. Doctors and nurses will be able to access patients' allergies, medication combinations and dosages from anywhere in the hospital.

Doctors then will start ordering prescriptions through the computers, which Houshmand said will lower the risk of patients receiving the wrong medication, especially from doctors with illegible handwriting.

"That greatly reduces the chance of error," Houshmand said.

_ Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or