Jan. 25, 1999 St. Louis, Jan. 21, 1999 -- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a company called Site-C have developed a WOMENS CARD that enables doctors at a computer to quickly access patients' medical records. The smart card, which looks like a credit card, is being tested by pregnant women.
"What sets this card apart is that the information is stored on a Web server," says Gilad A. Gross, M.D., who is heading the study. "Therefore you can provide unlimited amounts of data, such as lab tests, ultrasound images and medications the patient is taking."
Gross will discuss this adaptation of smart-card technology Jan. 20 at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco. He is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and director of obstetrics at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
The study, which began Dec. 1, will involve 250 pregnant women, half of whom will receive a WOMENS CARD during a visit to the hospital's obstetrics clinic. The study will determine whether the card makes it easier and quicker for doctors to access patients' medical records and make informed treatment decisions.
The card contains a computer chip, which summarizes the patient's medical record -- general information about the patient, medications, allergies, medical problems, lab results, etc. Every time the patient visits the clinic, new information is added.
"This means that no matter what day of the week or time of day or night a woman goes into labor, her records will immediately be available to authorized personnel," says Phyllis Wiegraffe, clinical research coordinator.
Looking to the future, Gross says, "Imagine that a pregnant woman vacationing in Canada starts to bleed. She goes to the hospital, but all of her medical records are in St. Louis. Or what if an unconscious person needs medical care? If those patients had a card, their medical records would be right there."
The information isn't limited to the amount that can be stored on a patient's card because authorized doctors have their own WOMENS CARDs. By inserting these into a card reader and entering a personal identification number (PIN), they can access their patients -- complete medical records from a Web server maintained by Site-C. Such a system is much more secure than paper records, which could be read by anyone or even removed from a doctor's office, Gross says.
The Web pages provide general information about a patient, insurance coverage, medications, medical and genetic history, information about exposure to infectious diseases, and current and past pregnancy data. "As well as helping patients in emergencies, we hope this will cut down on redundant tests," Gross says. "For example, pregnant women often come into the hospital because they are bleeding, and many do not know their blood type. Because that information is on the card, we don't have to do another work-up."
The WOMENS CARD also links physicians to Web sites with information about rare medical conditions. If a patient has Noonan's syndrome, for example, the system will display a Web page about that disorder with her medical record. "We have found Web pages for many things a woman's physician might never have heard of," Gross says, "because we don't want doctors to spend time running to the library."
The cards are inexpensive to make -- each one costs less than $20 -- and card readers are less than $75. Therefore the WOMENS CARD could easily be adapted to other patient populations. "The dream is that everyone will have one," Gross says. "But the next logical steps for us are cards for newborns and children. Just think how great it would be if you didn't have to keep looking up your kids' immunization records."
This study is privately funded by an anonymous donor.
The full- and part-time faculty of Washington University School of Medicine are the physicians and surgeons of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC Health System.
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