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Ref: Rhode Island hospital system develops web-based information-sharing network



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Hospital capacity system could save time, lives


Jessica Selby , Daily Times

Emergency responders and the services they deal with now have a new way to share information about the status of local hospitals for accepting patients.

The new system, the Hospital Capacity System or HCS, is Internet-based and provides real-time information in visual and audio formats. The system was officially implemented at the end of last month in hospitals, at the Rhode Island Department of Health, at emergency service operators' offices, inside city and town emergency dispatch centers and with other designated entities.

The system, according to the health department, provides "real-time" on-line access to hospital diversion and hospital bed capacity data.

When users access the system, a single screen provides a list of hospitals in the state and their diversion status, indicated by a green dot with an "A" for accepting, a red dot with a "D" for diverting and a blue dot with an "F" for forced open, according to a screen shot provided by the Department of Health. Other information is available elsewhere on the system.

Prior to the implementation of the Hospital Capacity System, this information was communicated between parties by use of a Nextel telephone. Though the Nextel telephones were effective, the new system is much more effective, according to both Hopkins Hill Fire Chief Frank Brown, who is also the director of communications for Coventry Fire, and Teri Linton, nurse manager of the emergency department at Kent Hospital, both of whom are familiar with both systems.

"It is a great system," Brown said of the Hospital Capacity System. "Our communication has absolutely improved as has the speed in which that communication happens."

"With the old system, we had to make phone calls to each of the hospitals to find out what their status was. Now, with the HCS, it gives us real-time data on the status right there," he said. "Just by looking at the screen, we can immediately see the status of each site, saving us a lot of time."

The new system has also eliminated a lot of confusion that existed between emergency responders and the patients' families during transportation which had occurred during the time when Nextel telephones were used, according to Brown.

"What would happen a lot of times is that we would tell the family that we were transporting to Rhode Island and, then, on the way there, we would get rerouted to Kent because we would find out on the way there that Rhode Island was now diverting, and then we would have no way of telling the family," Brown said. "Now, we know immediately which hospitals are diverting and we can also see the number of red, green and yellow beds that are available."

Red, Brown explained, is considered a bed dedicated for a critical patient, green is designated as a bed for "the walking wounded" and yellow is designated for patients somewhere in the middle.

Having this information readily available will make transportation in a mass casualty situation all that much faster, he said.

The new systems are also making life in the ER department much more manageable, according to Linton.

"We have been practicing with the real-time alert system since it went live on February 28," Linton said. "The HCS state-wide system is in all hospitals, so it allows us all to see who is on diversion, who is accepting rescue, if there is something going on in a facility. If there is a disaster mode at one hospital - for example, say their phone system went down and they need to go on diversion - the HCS allows us to maintain contact with them through the system."

"The HCS provides for communication not just between hospitals, too," Linton said. "It is also used by the state so they know how we are operating, and emergency personnel so they know how many patients they can bring to each location at any given time. I think it is just an excellent program and a great improvement to the old system."

The Nextel phones, according to Linton, are now being used as a backup means of communication in case a cell tower is knocked out. The hospitals also have satellite communication in place if both the HCS and the Nextel systems fail.

"What the state has done is created a redundant system so that if any one means of communication fails, there is always going to be an alternative means," Linton said.

The computers the Hospital Capacity System is operated on were purchased through funding from the Department of Homeland Security, according to Dawn Lewis, the hospital emergency preparedness coordinator for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Five of the computers were distributed at dispatch centers around the state, two were given to each hospital and a number of others were distributed to various other health related institutions for a total of approximately 40, she said.

Each month throughout the year, a hospital in the state is held responsible to host the system. The hospital's duties, Lewis said, include answering radio, Internet, and Nextel alerts. The host hospital is also required to make sure other hospitals respond to alerts in a timely fashion. The host hospital is, basically, she said, "the state commander."

More than a year of planning went into the design and implementation of the Hospital Capacity System. Numerous employees at each hospital, the Health Department and emergency services had to go through training to use the system and participated in multiple drills since it was installed, according to the Department of Health. The total cost of the system was $200,000.


©Kent County Daily Times 2007

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