Top ER Tech Trends

No one wants to be in the ER—but these technologies are making procedures easier and recovery times better

A night in the emergency room can be a terrifying and traumatizing experience, either feeling sick or worried sick about someone you love. Once discharged, before getting to rest at home, there’s a trip to the drug store and a wait. And few pharmacies in the area are open twenty-four hours.  

Now, InstyMeds, a secure prescription-dispensing system with the simplicity of a soda machine, helps patients get their medications before leaving the hospital. Antibiotics, steroids, inhalers and pain medication are among the offerings, explains Dr. Bob Leschke, a board-certified ER physician with Madison Emergency Physicians, which contracts with St. Mary’s Hospital. “It bills their insurance or takes cash and credit cards.”

SSM Healthcare of Wisconsin (St. Mary’s parent company) owns three hospitals and is affiliated with five rural hospitals, so InstyMeds machines have become especially popular for patients in rural areas where a twenty-four-hour pharmacy can be more challenging to find.

“Or we have elderly patients who don’t drive and they’d have to call a taxi to take them to a pharmacy,” Leschke says. “So even if you have access, it can still be inconvenient.”

It’s one of several newer, patient-focused technologies helping smooth the often-bumpy road of emergency care. Some innovations may be merely convenient, but others can be lifesavers.

All three of Madison’s hospitals—St. Mary’s, UW Hospital and Clinics and Meriter—use Epic’s CareEverywhere product. It’s the Verona-based software company’s bridge to linking a patient’s records between healthcare facilities.

Why is it so useful? Often Leschke’s patients may have had specialty care at another hospital or may be sick enough to not recall a recent surgery.  

“I can compare their previous lab results to ones here, or even what their surgeon’s notes are,” he says.

Hospital staff must have a patient’s permission to use the system, but most often get it. The link has even helped doctors put the brakes on the growing prescription drug abuse problem in our community.  

“You can see this person was at UW yesterday,” Leschke says, “And the [doctor dispensed the patient] fifteen tablets of Oxycodone and the patient didn’t tell me.”

Before CareEverywhere, doctors would have to call another provider and have records faxed. “Half the time you wouldn’t get anything back … or you’d only get back some of what you really needed.”

Digital technology has also helped doctors share X-rays and scans between hospitals, and even seek the opinion of a colleague in another location.

“A specialist at UW can look at an X-ray of my patient in Columbus and say, ‘They need to come over here,’ or, ‘they don’t need to be transferred,’” says Leschke.

Another addition to the clinical toolbox is criticial in true emergencies.

Intubations traditionally have been done with a lighted instrument allowing nurses and physicians to see into the airway. The GlideScope adds a camera to the instrument, bringing up the image on a small LCD screen.

“Patients can die if you’re unable to get them intubated, so a difficult airway can be a scary thing,” Leschke says. “This allows us to improve our success rate—and that’s a good thing.”

Yet no matter how much medicine changes, it stays the same.

“There’s a lot of tried and true to it, too,” says Leschke. “Good clinical, listening and exam skills, as well as a great nursing staff—that will always be the most important.”

David Douglas is a reporter with WISC-TV3. Watch “Live at Five” on Thursday, December 15 to see these tech trends in action.

Read more Healthy Living features here

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