Wisconsin County to Use Technology to Speed Delivery of Emergency Care

Published September 1, 2007

An ambitious project to electronically link all emergency rooms in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin launched on June 20–the first of its kind nationwide.

Under the Emergency Department (ED) Linking Project–a collaboration among the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange (WHIE), Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, and Microsoft–emergency doctors across the county will have access to patients’ medical test results and prescription information with a few keystrokes.

“Our team is proud to be the external evaluator of this project,” said Patricia Flatley Brennan, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing. “We believe that the goals of the project will improve care coordination for people in Wisconsin. Our team will endeavor to determine the impact on work flow in the emergency department and on patient outcomes.”

Securing Data

Technicians are working on a system to secure and share medical information and facilitate care coordination protocols that will assist patient care, provide better continuity of care, and improve patient safety.

“Emergency clinicians are often faced with very ill patients and a complete lack of past medical history that limits our ability to provide optimal care,” stated Dr. Edward Barthell, a local emergency doctor and one of the founders of WHIE, in a news release.

“Within two years the ED Linking Project will have all Milwaukee County hospital emergency departments and the local federally qualified health clinics linked so that information can be shared instantaneously. This will allow us to coordinate, and will improve both quality and efficiency of the care we deliver,” Barthell explained.

Exchanging Information

The ED Linking Project will support the works of a public-private collaborative, the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership.

“The new information exchange network will facilitate care coordination between area hospitals and the community clinics. Better continuity of care should result in better outcomes for patients,” said Leo Brideau, chairman of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, in a news release.

According to WHIE, the group has obtained commitments for $5 million in funding to implement the ED Linking system in Milwaukee, including funding from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. Medicaid patients will be among the first to have their data made available through the system.

At press time, the ED Linking system was expected to roll out during summer with initial hospitals connected by the end of 2007 and 10 hospitals connected over the next two years.

Protecting Patients

Initially the project will enable emergency clinicians to see if a patient has recently gone to any other hospital emergency department, according to a June 20 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article, which added, “it also will provide access to insurance claims data that shows recent diagnoses and tests, as well as the drugs that the patient has been prescribed. That information–while limited–would help doctors diagnose patients more quickly and accurately and avoid ordering duplicative tests.”

Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care, based in Minnesota, warned there could be problems ahead.

“Unless the electronic exchange of patient data is done right, it will not improve quality of care. If patients do not support a comprehensive online medical record, the exchange will not improve quality of care,” Brase said.

“Patients may or may not want all their data available to everyone with access to the online electronic data exchange system,” Brase continued. “Once patients learn that Doctor A will read what Doctor B said, they may not get the care they need. They may also no longer tell the truth about their medical concerns or their medical history.”

Dr. Sanjit Bagchi ([email protected]) writes from India.

For more information …

“Medical records would be shared,” by Guy Boulton, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 20, 2007, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=622964