Simple technology changing face of health care delivery

Posted: March 4, 2013

The Winchester Star

Dr. John Choi (right), a Winchester Medical Center neurologist, confers from his office with Dr. Bart Johnson of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital’s emergency room using telehealth equipment. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Choi discusses the telehealth equipment that allows him to examine, with the help of distant emergency room physicians, possible stroke patients in other Valley Health hospitals via a video link. For example, if an individual in Front Royal has a stroke — an emergency where time is of the essence — they don’t need to be transported to Winchester, Choi said.

WINCHESTER — In a small office in the corner of the Emergency Department at Winchester Medical Center, doctors are using simple technology in an attempt to save lives and maybe alter the way health care is delivered.

From the room, doctors administer the “telestroke program” for Valley Health — which operates WMC and five other regional hospitals.

Valley Health’s other hospitals don’t have stroke specialists, but by using interactive video conference equipment the program enables stroke specialists based at WMC to provide guidance on stroke treatment to nurses and doctors at other Valley Health hospitals, said Dr. John Choi, a neurologist and stroke specialist.

For example, if an individual in Front Royal has a stroke — an emergency where time is of the essence — they don’t need to be transported to Winchester, Choi said.

By interacting with the nurse or emergency room doctor at the patient’s side, Choi can recommend what medications the patient should receive.

The telestroke program is one example of how local health care providers are instituting more technology into the way they keep records and care for patients.

A survey released recently by the Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology shows that more Virginia hospitals implemented telehealth services and that more state-based physicians adopted an electronic health record system in 2012.

Valley Health already has 20 years worth of electronic health records for all patients and nearly all physicians within the care network’s service area, said Joan Roscoe, Valley Health vice president of information systems and chief information officer.

According to the Center for Innovative Technology survey, 54 percent of Virginia hospitals are implementing telehealth services. The national average is 42 percent.

The numbers using electronic health records are even higher, with 92.5 percent of hospitals using such records and 82.5 percent of Virginia physicians.

The electronic records save time — because records are readily available — and money because tests don’t need to be performed more than necessary, Roscoe said.

But some don’t think electronic health records are all they’re cracked up to be.

Installing and maintaining such systems — even with government subsidies — can be a financial strain, said Dr. Curtis A. Winter, president of the Shenandoah Independent Practice Association (SIPA), a trade group representing 330 private medical practices in Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties, and Northern Virginia.

Roughly 75 percent of SIPA members have adopted electronic health records, Winters said.

But plenty of problems remain, he added.

The costly systems are sometimes incompatible with other electronic record programs.

“So all the perceived benefits from [electronic records] can only be achieved for providers using the same [programs],” Winter said. “Here in Winchester there are about seven different systems in use.”

Roscoe said Valley Health has a team of people working to interchange data from different systems — a solution that Winter said it extremely costly for an independent practice.

— Contact Conor Gallagher at cgallagher@winchesterstar.com