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Divya Shroff, a agents physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northwest Washington, stops what she’s accomplishing to acknowledgment her phone: It’s a doctor bottomward the anteroom who needs advice with a man disturbing to breathe.

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She calls up the patient’s medical almanac on the computer at her board and scrolls through lab reports, doctors’ notes, X-rays and EKGs, cerebration out loud with the medical resident, who is at the man’s bedside.

Strep pneumo in the blood. Chest blur looks like he’s accumulating fluid. Supposed to get a chest tube. Adamantine to deathwatch up. No new meds that would be sedating him. Looks like he needs the ICU.

Over the abutting 10 minutes, Shroff visits the patient’s allowance and the ICU, and in both places amendment his medical almanac on added computers while she talks with a half-dozen bodies about what needs to be done. She spends no time attractive for the patient’s chart, riffling through cardboard or adaptation handwriting. Nor does she ask anyone to booty her chat for things. She aloof lets the affirmation — all of it appropriate there for anybody to see — accomplish the case that the accommodating needs to be confused as anon as possible.

It turns out to be the appropriate decision. Anon afterwards he gets to the ICU, he stops breathing. Doctors alleviate him and put him on a ventilator.

Did the cyberbanking medical almanac save this 71-year-old man? It’s absurd to say.

But this abundant is clear: Never afresh will a VA patient’s blueprint be an alibi for things not accident efficiently. Never afresh will advice that is lost, adamantine to apprehend or absurd to move from one abode to addition be a agency in the complicated calculus of what makes acceptable medical affliction — and, on occasion, saves lives.

The cyberbanking medical almanac is the best important distinct development allowance to conductor in the Era of No Excuses in avant-garde medicine. It is an age in which analytic decision-making, physician achievement and accommodating outcomes are added transparent; accommodating assurance is mechanized; and the once-secret medical blueprint is sometimes accessible to contributions from the patients themselves.

Cyberbanking medical annal accomplish ambagious and physically bulky masses of abstracts instantly available, carriageable and searchable — altogether added advantageous than aback the advice was stored on paper. Computer-accessible annal accept the abeyant to save the cost-strangled American medical arrangement billions of dollars in waste, alliteration and error. They may additionally prove to be capital accoutrement of research, acceptance scientists to appraise patterns of medical practice, biologic use, aggravation ante and bloom outcomes.

Since 1999, the VA’s 155 hospitals, 881 clinics, 135 nursing homes and 45 rehabilitation centers accept been affiliated by a accepted medical annal network. It allows any accustomed being to attending at 5.3 actor patients’ annal — aggregate from a nurse’s agenda accounting during a hospital stay, to the aftereffect of a claret assay fatigued at a dispensary visit, to the moving-picture blur of a coronary angiogram done in a cardiology lab.

Alike admitting President Bush has set a ambition of 2014 for aback best Americans should accept their medical advice stored electronically, the Department of Veterans Affairs is today one of the few bloom systems — and by far the better — that is about paperless.

A abstraction commissioned by the Department of Bloom and Animal Casework aftermost abatement arise that one-quarter of American physicians use some array of cyberbanking record-keeping in their practices. But beneath than 10 percent accept systems that abundance all all-important data, acquiesce cyberbanking acclimation of tests and accommodate analytic reminders. Alone 5 percent of the country’s 6,000 hospitals accept computerized acclimation of drugs and tests, and alike beneath accept a absolutely chip arrangement like the VA’s.

Although some bodies accept authoritative medical annal broadly accessible to abounding practitioners is a blackmail to privacy, VA admiral accept acerb that accommodating aloofness is added defended now than in the era of cardboard charts.

In the accomplished 2 1/2 years, the VA has advised 20 complaints of aegis breaches. Seventeen were for accommodating annal accessed by crooked people, and three were for absolution of medical abstracts to third parties afterwards accommodating consent, VA backer Jo Schuda said.

The Problems of Cardboard

In the accepted mind, the arch arrears in medical annal is bright handwriting. But that doesn’t activate to call the problem.

Abounding hospitals accept assorted cardboard archive for anniversary accommodating — one for hospital stays, addition for dispensary visits and others for specialty casework such as concrete therapy. Advice is anesthetized via carbons, faxes and letters.

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The archive themselves are generally maddening arrays of cardboard captivated calm with metal tabs and wheeled in groups by arcade barrow from book allowance to appointment room. (Before the VA got its cyberbanking system, alone 60 percent of patients’ archive could be begin on any accustomed visit.) Attractive at X-rays and imaging scans is appropriately annoying and unpredictable, acute trips to a blur library and luck that the appropriate binder can be retrieved.

Cyberbanking medical annal annihilate those headaches. But they do beneath accessible things, too.

Searchable computerized databases acquiesce physicians to appraise advice calm beyond time and space. (In the case of the VA, a doctor in Washington can calmly acquisition a claret assay from a accommodating advised bristles years ago at the San Francisco veterans hospital.) The adeptness to ascertain trends in physiological variables such as serum chemistry, corpuscle counts, claret burden and alike weight is important to acceptable decision-making. But it is generally adamantine to do. Cyberbanking medical annal accomplish it easier.

Cyberbanking almanac systems additionally arch one of the added perilous chasms in medicine: the alteration of affliction aback patients leave the hospital.

Two years ago, a abstraction of 2,600 patients absolved from university hospitals begin that 41 percent had assay after-effects awaiting aback they left. One in 10 of those tests eventually accepted aberrant abundant to accreditation activity — added testing, a new assay or a change in treatment. However, added assay has apparent that up to 85 percent of patients appointment their primary affliction doctors — who these canicule are acceptable to accept had little if any role in their hospital affliction — afore a arbitrary of their aftermost assay arrives.

This aperture is a well-recognized hazard. A 2003 abstraction showed that 49 percent of patients suffered at atomic one medical absurdity in the two months afterwards abrogation the hospital, generally because the alfresco doctors didn’t apperceive what was done in the hospital, or what was larboard to do.

Such problems are abundant beneath acceptable aback anybody has the aforementioned advice and cipher has to bethink to bear it.

Cyberbanking annal are abnormally accessible in managing decree drugs, a above antecedent of medical errors. The VA software flags ambiguous doses and abeyant interactions. Hospitalized patients accept bar codes on their wristbands that are scanned for an character assay anniversary time a bolus is dispensed or an bang given.

The VA dispenses 240 actor outpatient prescriptions a year. The computer arrangement tells practitioners not alone what a accommodating has been assigned but what he has absolutely best up from the pharmacy.

The amount of such a database became bright afterwards Hurricane Katrina, aback 560 bodies were abandoned from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss., and brought to Washington.

“Their medical annal were amphibian in the Gulf somewhere,” said Sanford Garfunkel, the 59-year-old ambassador of the Washington VA hospital. “But those veterans who had been apparent by the VA, we could admission their records. We abounding 1,800 prescriptions actually overnight.”

The VA is now rolling out “My Bloom e Vet,” a affection that allows patients to actualize a aperture to their own charts, area they can almanac abstracts they booty at home (weight, pulse, claret sugar, claret pressure); account over-the-counter medicines they use; and action comments about their health.

“It’s a little like MySpace,” said Joel Kupersmith, above administrator of the Texas Tech University School of Anesthetic and now the VA’s arch assay and development officer, apropos to the amusing networking Web site. “The accommodating will accept his own little bend in the almanac area he can accumulate his own data. That is a anarchy in medicine, as far as I know.”

Cyberbanking annal can additionally advance physician performance. They can acquaint of things that shouldn’t be done, accommodate reminders of what should be done and adviser what is done.

A abstraction arise in 2004 compared the affliction of VA and non-VA patients in 12 communities, application 348 affection indicators as the yardstick. VA patients denticulate college on all-embracing quality, abiding ache affliction and antitoxin care.

Cyberbanking annal arise to be money-saving devices, at atomic in some hands. By one estimate, they could save American medical affliction $162 billion a year. Abounding hospital systems, however, cramp at the upfront investment, which can ambit from “a few actor to 50 to 60 actor dollars,” said Pat Wise, an controlling with Healthcare Advice and Management Systems Society, a barter and able organization.

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The amount of the VA’s cyberbanking medical record, alleged VistA (for Veterans Advice Systems and Technology Architecture), is adamantine to measure. It was developed over abounding years by abounding people, including hundreds of clinicians. However, the software is now chargeless to anyone who wants to get it through the Freedom of Advice Act.

Places area versions are in use accommodate the U.S. Public Bloom Service’s Indian Bloom Service; the Berlin Heart Institute in Germany; and Nasser Institute Hospital in Egypt. Mexico is adapting it for its absolute bloom system.

A Wireless Aggregation

To best patients in VA hospitals, the cyberbanking medical almanac is about invisible. But to the practitioners and their students, it is an abiding problem-solver, analytic ability and educational tool.

This is axiomatic aback Divya Shroff’s aggregation of one resident, two interns and two medical acceptance does morning circuit with two wireless laptops on wheeled carts. On one they adjustment lab tests, diets, drugs, dosage changes, X-rays, scans and specialist consultations. Best are entered as anon as they leave the patient’s room, a action that gets the tasks underway beforehand than aback orders catholic by bottom or aeriform tube.

The aggregation uses the added computer for teaching, such as aback the accumulation gathers alfresco the aperture of Harold W. Bazel, a 71-year-old retired Army agents sergeant.

Shroff uses the computer to blueprint two episodes of abrupt abatement in Bazel’s hematocrit — the atom of his claret that is fabricated up of red cells. She calls up the assay of aqueous afresh sampled from a ample abridged about his larboard lung. She helps the medical acceptance amount out that a lot of the “missing” claret charge be there. She scrolls through the slices of his chest CAT scan, pointing out awkward densities. The accumulation calm makes a plan for how to advance with a analytic workup that it hopes will acknowledge what is accident central Bazel’s chest. They all afresh footfall into his room.

He is sitting on the bed in bittersweet VA-issue pajamas. Members of the aggregation ask to accept to his chest. They explain the abutting abstraction they are acclimation and altercate accessible results.

“I’m alpha to anticipate you haven’t ample out what it is yet,” he says.

“Well, we’re alive on it,” Shroff says, and pats his forearm. The aggregation leaves, retrieves the computer carts it has larboard in the aisle and active off to its abutting stop.

If the computerized almanac is an airy attendance to abounding patients in the hospital, it is an certain one to patients alfresco it.

“The computer is reminding me that already a year we charge to assay your feet,” Melissa Turner, an internist who works in the outpatient dispensary absorbed to the hospital. She is speaking to 66-year-old William Torney of Clinton while attractive at the adviser on her desk.

Torney is a diabetic. The medical almanac knows this. It additionally knows that studies accept apparent that alternate assay of diabetics’ anxiety helps practitioners bolt amputation-inducing sores aback they are baby and treatable. The computer won’t stop reminding Turner to assay Torney’s anxiety until she does it and archive it.

He takes off his socks. One at a time, she takes a bottom on her knee and examines it. There are no sores, but the pulses are weak, a assurance of poor claret breeze that can accomplish wounds adamantine to heal. Turner concludes it’s apparently not the best abstraction to accept her accommodating cut his toenails and accident nicking himself.

“I’m activity to ask the podiatrists to see you,” she says, abacus her allegation to the computerized agenda of this dispensary visit.

Automated, to a Point

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Bottomward the corridor, Neil Evans, 34, is amid patients.

Evans is a technophile and a big fan of the computerized record. He is additionally a actual active man. He commutes from Baltimore — by bicycle, alternation and alms — about four hours a day and has a set of adolescent twins at home. Efficiency is a priority, and he uses the computer to aerate it.

He’s acutely aware, though, of the hazard of accepting a apparatus amid the doctor and the patient.

“If you absorb your absolute time attractive at the screen, it is activity to affect the patient’s acumen of affection — and I anticipate it ultimately affects the affliction you can bear the patient,” he says. He knows that at atomic allotment of his success depends on simple animal contact. “People don’t stop smoker because I acquaint them to,” he adds. “They stop smoker because they account my opinion, they apperceive me.”

Consequently, he tries to use the apparatus as a apparatus of engagement, not a barrier.

Aback he is interviewing a patient, he periodically stops for a machine-gun access of typing, during which he repeats out loud what he is autograph — a affectionate of exact spell-check. He occasionally turns the adviser to appearance the accommodating a blueprint or an image. He ignores the computer during the best important genitalia of the conversation.

“They apperceive they are activity to lose some of my attention, but in the end get added information,” he says.

Aback he sees his abutting patient, Randy Melvin Brown, 56, Evans spends about bisected the time aptitude forward, forearms on his knees, as Brown describes the afire affliction in his legs. It is apparently a ancillary aftereffect of chemotherapy he is accepting for a claret blight alleged assorted myeloma.

Brown won a Bronze Star in Vietnam. His face bears a continued blister from an appointment with acid wire on a blaze abject there. He is on a complicated dieting of painkillers and acoustic drugs. His eyes ample with tears as he describes how they aren’t working.

The beyond of computers at the VA, area Brown now spends abundant of his time, has not able him. It doesn’t bother him.

“From my point of view, I would say it’s good,” he says of the use of computers by Evans and added doctors. “Sometimes I balloon what I’m accepting into. I’ll go aback to him and accompany it up, and he’ll acquisition it because he’s got it in his computer.”

Evans types for a few minutes, afresh faces Brown afresh to adduce a plan. He is activity to accredit him to a appropriate dispensary for bodies with astringent or abiding pain. To course him over until then, he is activity to appoint a abundant college dosage of opiates.

Evans swivels aback to the computer. At the VA, prescriptions for such drugs crave that a patient’s name, abode and Amusing Aegis cardinal be accounting on cardboard and active by hand.

Evans has programmed his computer with a arrangement that allows him to adhesive in the appropriate advice and accelerate it to a printer abutting to his desk.

“This is what happens aback you alpha application the cyberbanking medical record,” he says, case off a bare calligraphy and putting it in the printer tray. “When you accept to do article ancient like address a prescription, it aloof drives you bananas.”

He pushes a button, and in a few abnormal the decree ancestor out. Alike the “no refills” advantage on it has been magically circled. He signs it. It’s the aboriginal time he’s acclimated a pen in 20 minutes. ·

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