Advances in health care technology do not always mean new machines or gadgets.
They also mean finding ways to keep patients – and loved ones – better informed.
Earlier this month, St. Luke’s was named among the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives’ most wired systems, meaning that the organization is among those employing technologies that yield data to achieve meaningful outcomes.
The recognition notes that wired systems are also experimenting with more advanced technologies, like telehealth, a major advantage for patients and clinicians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Luke’s recently launched a companion text service, and soon plans to offer expanded patient information via OpenNotes. Both will help patients be better informed and improve communication with providers.
Though she had not been involved in direct care in about six years, Kristy Schmidt took on a handful of nursing shifts in April. She vividly remembers taking care of a man at the Meridian hospital who had suffered a stroke.
“I couldn’t help but keep thinking about his wife, who was sitting at home, unable to visit, worrying about him,” said Schmidt, St. Luke’s director of care experience. “Our hospitals serve as community centers. Of course, that’s been greatly impacted. It’s really hard when a patient can’t have their people here.”
Schmidt learned of families sitting in their cars in the hospital parking lot, waiting for word on a surgery or emergency department visit. The idea was in place before the pandemic, but for Schmidt and others at St. Luke’s, it now became even more important: How can we keep people updated when they can’t be in waiting areas?
St. Luke’s Integrated Health Technologies team helped put together a pilot program in Meridian in September to send automated texts to designated recipients to update them on patients. The reception was “overwhelmingly positive,” Schmidt said, and the service was launched across the system on Sept. 30. When they check in, patients can provide contact information for who will receive the texts.
In the first week, more than 3,000 messages were sent regarding nearly 900 patients at all locations.
“We are hoping it helps alleviate the hardship of limiting visitors, it helps reduce some of the phone volume and lets family or friends be in a comfortable spot, instead of somewhere like their car,” Schmidt said.
Visitor rules have needed to change throughout the pandemic to ensure patient and employee safety, but the service has benefits that transcend COVID-19. Companions who cannot wait or prefer to wait at home will benefit, no matter the situation.
St. Luke’s myChart gives patients access to many types of information: about their visits, test results, prescriptions and more. Soon, they will have even more information at their disposal.
In November, St. Luke’s expects to implement OpenNotes through myChart, giving patients access to doctors’ notes. These may include progress, procedure and/or consultation notes, history and physicals, discharge summaries and/or imaging, laboratory and pathology result narratives.
“It will be a pretty big cultural shift in terms of how our providers think of their notes and the speed with which patients will have access,” said Dr. Neeraj Soni, St. Luke’s chief medical informatics officer.
Most patients will access OpenNotes through myChart, though other apps, including Apple Health, will also work if a myChart account has been created.
Soni said there has been good reaction from providers. More than 40 million patients in North America already have OpenNotes access, and Soni said providers who have spoken with colleagues already taking part in OpenNotes have had positive feedback.
OpenNotes studies noted that 78% of patients said having their provider’s notes accessible helped them take medications as prescribed, and a similar percentage said accessing notes made them feel more in control of their health care. It also has yielded better communication between patients and providers.
“Patients have always had access to their notes, but usually, they had to fill out a form, have a copy be made, and that’s a pretty big barrier for the average patient,” Soni said.
“Making it electronic allows it to be right there for them to easily access.”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.