Originally created 11/18/96

South Carolina nurses using hand-held computers to track patients



SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - Instead of paper charts on clipboards, nurses at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center are starting to carry notebook-sized computers to track patients' records.

The change to computers, expected to free time for more patient care and make information more easily accessible, is believed to be the first in South Carolina, said Sherry Tenkotte, a clinical information analyst who helped design the new system.

"We've got to give the nurses as much help as we can in getting their jobs done," she said. "You cannot imagine the amount of paperwork involved in caring for one patient."

Tenkotte had to look to Oregon, Washington state and New Hampshire to find similar systems in use. Another is in North Carolina, she said.

Paper charts are still being used at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and at Columbia's Richland Memorial Hospital, supervisors there said Saturday.

Nurses began using the minicomputers in Spartanburg's oncology and hospice units on Nov. 15. Plans are to add them to more departments each month until the entire hospital is online.

The idea is to cut down on paperwork that can swamp a nurse before he or she ever gets to a patient's bedside.

For each patient, a nurse must fill out a health assessment, write a nursing care plan and goals for the patient, transcribe doctor's orders, keep a 24-hour flow sheet, track medicine administration and more.

The computer speeds the process by eliminating much of the writing. Nurses tap their choices on a screen, rather than the keyboard, for faster use.

"It was just astronomical paperwork before," said Sharon Mayse, a nurse manager in oncology. "Now you don't have to write everything out. You just tap, tap, tap, and it prints it out in this beautiful form for you."

Tenkotte said that since few workers are familiar with the touch-screen technology, the computers will be switched to laptops with keyboards that will roll on carts.

The tracking system is expected to cost about $1 million and is part of a larger systems upgrade that will cost about $20 million, Tenkotte said.

The computer has several advantages over paper records, said nurse Michael Cogdell, who helped train other nurses on the system. Information is stored automatically on a network where other authorized nurses, technicians and doctors can retrieve it instantly.

Computers, unlike paper records, can be pulled up by a doctor with access to a computer in his office or at his home.

The computer can tell a doctor or nurse about previous visits by the patient and can create graphics using stored data.

Hospital officials say they plan to continue to add features to further reduce paperwork, such as allowing nurses to use a bar code scanner on each medicine bottle or vial and the patient's wristband to record all medication doses.