Innovation: It’s Not Just a Paper Saver

Published February 1, 2006

Swiping a card or key tag to access medical records or refill a prescription is not just “emergent” technology–it’s happening now, with directives in Congress and incentives in the private sector encouraging it to grow nationwide and even internationally.

While health information technology and Internet use are the basis for electronic health records networks, modern gadgetry is helping doctors and patients alike in smaller yet significant ways.

X-Rays on a Laptop

“I’ve used teleradiology for a long time now,” says Pennsylvania radiologist Richard Patt, referring to the viewing and interpreting of complex diagnostic medical imaging such as CT and MRI scans remotely by computer.

When starting his career at Washington, DC’s Georgetown University Hospital in the 1980s, Patt says, “we actually had one of the earliest programs in both teleradiology and telemedicine, funded initially by the Department of Defense.”

Today Patt can consult from his home in the Bucks County area as well as in the hospital. He notes, “there are some amazing new gadgets, the size of a cigarette lighter, that are USB storage devices only for medical records and x-rays–an imaging history that a patient can carry with him.”

‘Wired’ Hospital Rooms

For cancer patient Tom Faranda, who in January was scheduled to undergo an intensive course of high-dose chemotherapy followed by a transplant of his own previously harvested stem cells, his three-week isolation recovery at Memorial Sloan Kettering would be made tolerable by hospital-provided Internet access.

“I will be in isolation,” the New Yorker wrote on the blog he created to document his treatment, “but here’s the set-up for the room: a desk, a built-in computer with internet access, a plasma TV, and a DVD. … Pretty amazing. I’ve never heard of any hospital with that kind of a set-up, even for private room patients (mine is not a private room–I will be the only occupant, but it is an isolation room).”

Through his computer, Faranda can check in with his friends and family and connect with cancer patients all over the world and find a unique support system.

Not all hospital patients are in the same situation as Faranda, but the time where a hospital bed was a lonely place until someone came to visit may one day be a thing of the past.

Parents and Kids Benefit

At Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, many parents turn to the “My Child Has” search feature on the hospital’s Web site ( This resource offers an encyclopedic database of information on childhood illnesses and conditions, tips on preventive care, and explanations of treatments, procedures, and diagnostic tests. Each entry includes links to the appropriate clinical departments and programs in the hospital.

Entries assist parents and caregivers–no matter where they live–in their quest to understand such complex conditions as anorexia nervosa, spina bifida, short bowel syndrome, and brain tumors, as well as many others. Information on more common ailments, treatment, and prevention–the common cold, flu, splinters, burns, animal bites and scratches, acne, allergies, avoiding asthma triggers, infant nutrition, grief and bereavement, stuttering, growth rates, and how to tell the difference between a minor problem and a true emergency–is also included.

Another feature on the site is “Arthur’s Guide to Children’s Hospital Boston.” The guide, in both English and Spanish, was created to answer questions children may have about going to the hospital and to help prepare the entire family for the visit. Designed to look and read like a school report by popular children’s book character Arthur and his friends (from the Marc Brown books and public television series), the guide describes hospital experiences in simple terms, covering in detail three types of visits: doctor’s visits, pre-operative visits, and hospital stays.

Another frequently visited area of the site is the “Experience Journal,” where young patients and their families share their personal medical experiences. Parents can even request a doctor’s appointment online.

Increases Confidence

“Life isn’t predictable,” said hospital president and CEO James Mandell, M.D., “and one of the wonderful things about the Internet is that it makes vital information–often drawn from references not easily accessible to the general public–available with a few mouse clicks when you need it the most.

“We offer resources online for both families and physicians who are searching for the most credible and up-to-date information; not only to help the child or patient feel better, but to help parents feel better, too,” Mandell said. The hospital makes information available to help parents “feel more prepared before coming to the hospital, or to be assured that they have answers about the most effective treatment options available,” he said.

Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.