“Virtual Safety Net”

CA Hospitals Improve Communication
Six California hospitals are linking their computer systems to better treat people who frequently seek emergency room care in multiple locations. (clarita/morguefile)

Suzanne Potter/ California News Service


OAKLAND, Calif. — A pilot program launching Wednesday between six Bay Area hospitals may provide a blueprint for a better way to treat patients who visit multiple emergency rooms on a regular basis — through software that potentially could save the state millions.

The idea is to reduce duplicate tests and procedures, particularly for people with chronic conditions related to homelessness, drug abuse or psychiatric issues. Four hospitals in the East Bay run by Sutter Health are newly linked, through a system known as Premanage ED, with two public hospitals in the Alameda Health System.

“Now, I can receive a report that shows me their visit histories from those other places,” said Dr. Arthur Sorrell, an emergency room physician, physician informaticist and physician chair of the Sutter Emergency Department Leadership Council. “It really allows us to very quickly drill down to what may be the essential issues for this patient.”

The “virtual safety net” would tell doctors whom to call, for example, if a patient already is part of a particular clinic, homeless shelter or social-service agency.

Jim Hickman, chief executive of Better Health East Bay, the philanthropic arm of Sutter Health, said the system already is bearing fruit.

“We’re seeing already real-time collaboration around patients that we didn’t even know we share,” he said. “Case managers are working, now online, to really keep patients on track with their care plans.”

Supporters hope that more hospital systems across the state will join in. The program already is in widespread use in Washington, which reported savings to the state of $33 million in its first year, and in Oregon.