ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) — On one floor high in Regional Medical Center in Anniston is a room with nothing but rows of desktop computers. From there, it's a few clicks for a physician to check a patient's medical chart and prescribe medication.
Outside on a wall in the hallway is a small flat screen that shows where patients are, which rooms are occupied and which need cleaning.
In years past, all these things were accomplished with countless paper forms and by phone calls. Federal health care reform is changing things, however, requiring all hospitals to go paperless as a way to improve efficiency and accuracy in the medical industry. And so far, officials from RMC and the area's other two hospitals say they are on track with meeting federal guidelines.
The Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law passed in 2010, has provisions that hospitals must meet in phases - the first in 2013 and the second in 2014 - to be considered paperless. Pete Furlow, RMC's director of information technology, said the Anniston hospital is about halfway through phase one and is on track to completing it in May in accordance with federal timelines. Furlow said the multi-million-dollar project, much of which will be reimbursed by the federal government, includes the installation of significant hardware and software along with training of personnel.
Furlow said by the end of phase one, all primary nursing floors in the hospital will have one room set aside with desktops that physicians can access at any time.
"Physicians can get access to the system and get lab results and get transcripts and see the history of a patient," Furlow said.
If a physician does not care to use one of the rooms, he or she will also have access to the entire electronic system by smartphone or tablet computer. Also, moveable flat screens will be installed in every patient room. Imbedded in the wall underneath the screens will be keyboards that will allow nurses and physicians to access the hospital's computer system. With the equipment, a physician or nurse can show patients more information, such as an x-ray of a broken bone.
"The goal is to get nurses and physicians to interact more at a patient's bedside," Furlow said.
In keeping with that idea, computer-mounted mobile carts will also be available with barcode scanners, allowing nurses and physicians to scan a patient's bracelet and instantly know his or her medical information and drug needs.
"This way we can make sure we have the right patient at the right time with the right medication," Furlow said. "And the meds will be on the cart as well . the goal is to have more face-to-face time with the patient."
Furlow said RMC will start on phase two in late May. The second phase will include access to more electronic documentation for physicians and bringing online a new electronic system for the emergency room.
Bryan McCauley, CEO of Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in Anniston, said his hospital was at the midway point of meeting the federal government's 2013 guidelines. McCauley said part of the system will be completely electronic while part will require manual input from physicians and nurses.
"It's really an issue of taking on software platforms and gaining the ability to store things online," McCauley said.
McCauley said he expected the changes to be beneficial for physicians and patients.
"Yeah, I don't think there is any doubt about that in terms of stream-ability and portability of information," McCauley said.
Richard Moss, information technology director at Jacksonville Medical Center, said his hospital had already completed the first phase of paperless requirements.
"Physicians can do computer entry . sign all transcripts electronically, scheduling is done electronically and patients are even capable of pulling their electronic records if they want," Moss said.
Moss said Jacksonville Medical, which recently announced it has been sold to RMC, had the benefit of already being on an electronic system for several years. To fully meet phase one guidelines, the hospital had to just install some extra hardware. The hospital is now in the process of starting the second phase of requirements, Moss said.