Computer-based medical records praised

The familiar sight of a nurse clutching a clipboard is becoming a remnant of the past at Providence Medford Medical Center.

The hospital has installed a computer program that will give instant feedback on a patient's vital signs, a process that could save lives, according to hospital officials.

The Modified Early Warning System launched in late July and has been met with a thumbs-up from Providence doctors and nurses, said Denise Tinkham, the hospital's nursing clinical educator.

"Electronic medical records are evolving from not just collecting data, but getting that data to do something for us," Tinkham said.

Patients who have spent time in the hospital have become accustomed to a visit from a nurse who takes their vital signs and writes them down on a clipboard.

This information was then analyzed to see whether any action was warranted.

"It was a process that took some time because the nurses sometimes had to make multiple patient visits to check vital signs," Tinkham said. "They would then chart these vitals, so there could be a delay there."

Nurses will now enter a patient's vitals into a computer in each room. The software will then take an immediate reading of heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and other signs.

These readings will then be scored, and anything that falls into an area of concern will force an automatic page to a charge nurse who will respond instantly, Tinkham said.

The goal is to tackle potential problems before they reach dangerous levels.

MEWS is based on a 10-point scoring system, where a score of four or more is statistically linked to increased likelihood of death or admission to an intensive care unit, according to information provided by the hospital.

Once the charge nurse is paged, he or she will visit the patient and decide the next course of action, which could be nothing more than further monitoring or, in some cases, immediate transfer to the ICU for emergency care.

Tinkham said the hospital averages about one MEWS page per day.

The hospital plans to implement a similar system in the pediatric unit for children 6 months and older, Tinkham said.

"In the old way, nurses would have to write the vitals down on a piece of paper and then go chart them and ask, 'Are these bad?' " Tinkham said. "Now all this information is processed in an instant."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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