Before he joined the group at the university, Dr. Chopra worked at a community hospital, St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs, Ark. “It’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution when there are so many variables,” he says. At the community hospital, “we mandated that the hospitalist call the PCP at the time of discharge. At the academic medical center, we share an EHR with the PCPs and can reach them electronically. We are required to have the discharge summary in the computer before the patient leaves the hospital, and we mandate that hospitalists are reachable by e-mail or phone when they are off.
“I’m not a believer in throwing more technology at problems and just adding more layers of information tools,” Dr. Chopra adds. “Hospitalists who used to carry stethoscopes now also have a clipboard, phone, pager, PDA, and nine different signouts in their pockets. What we want to do is make their life easier. Here, we are looking at technology as a means to do that.”
Dr. Chopra and hospitalist colleague Prasanth Gosineni, MD, have been working with an Ann Arbor tech company called Synaptin to develop a lightweight, mobile client application designed to work on smartphones. Still in pilot testing, it would allow for task-oriented and priority-based messaging in real time and the systematic transfer of important information for the next hospitalist shift.
“You need to be able to share information in a systematic way, but that’s only half of the answer. The other half is the ability to ask specific questions,” Dr. Chopra says. “Technology doesn’t take away from the face-to-face encounter that needs to happen. Nothing will replace face time, but part of the solution is to provide data efficiently and in a way that is easily accessible.”
Dr. Chopra admits that EHR presents both positives and negatives to improved transitions and patient care, “depending on how well it works and what smart features it offers,” he says, “but also recognizing that EHR and other technologies have also taken us farther away from face-to-face exchanges. Some would say that’s part of the problem.”
Handoffs, discharges, and other transitions are ubiquitous in HM—and fraught with the potential for costly and harmful errors. The ideal of an interactive, face-to-face handoff simply is not available for many care transitions. However, hospitalists are challenged to find solutions that will work in their hospitals, with their teams, and their types of patients. Patients and policymakers expect nothing less. TH
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif.
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