Long-term care providers use IT to help keep patients safe

By Diana Manos
09:22 AM
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The industry ‘is going through a revolution’

TAMPA, FL – New advances in medication management technology, including electronic medication administration records (eMARs) are helping long-term care facilities avoid medication errors and streamline care.

According to Alan Traster, president and owner of Guardian Pharmacy of Southeast Florida, the advent of more electronic solutions for administering medication in the long-term care setting is promising.

“We’re going through a revolution right now,” he said. “We’re into a second generation of innovation. It’s more commonplace for everything to be more integrated from pharmacy to delivery in the nursing homes.”

The first revolution, of sorts, began in 1985, when computers really started to evolve in long-term care pharmacy, he explained. Then came the use of medication blister packaging. Both of these factors helped greatly in preventing medication errors.

Traster said over the past four years, parent-company, Atlanta-based Guardian has spent more than 12 million dollars on technology, with much of it spent to help the assisted living and skilled nursing facilities increase efficiencies, accuracy and save costs. Guardian is one of the largest long-term care pharmacy companies in the U.S.

“Facilities of all sizes are seeing the need to automate many of their day-to-day operations and their pharmacy partners are helping drive this adoption in many cases,” he said. “Within the past three years, there has been an explosion of new types of technologies.”

Traster said until two years ago, most long-term care facilities had to FAX their orders to Guardian. Now, Guardian can use new software to connect the FAX directly to a computer.

“What we’ve been able to do internally is make an easier flow of information and reduce the chance of error,” he explained. Dispatchers at Guardian scan bar codes on the medication before it is shipped. The new technology now offers Guardian more confidence on drug shipments. “We know what we have, where it is and where it’s going,” he said.

According to Traster, long-term care facilities can save from $25 to $40 per month, per resident by using an eMAR system, mainly because it eliminates the need for medication paperwork. In the past, facilities had to reconcile prescription orders, sending paper orders back and forth to Guardian. “Now they’re on real time, whenever something changes, it goes immediately into the record,” he said. The savings come from needing fewer nursing hours, and it allows nurses to spend more time with the residents.

Keri Hilliard, vice president of health services at Advent Christian Village/Good Samaritan, a skilled nursing facility in Dowling Park, Fla. said her organization has made “a substantial investment in technology” over the past year by implementing electronic health records. And, Good Samaritan is already beginning to see some return on its investment. Reimbursement has increased because nurses can better document care as it is given, rather than at the end of the day.

Hilliard said the facility is able to keep a closer watch on medication with an eMAR. Each nurse is responsible for 25 residents at each medication time. “An eMAR makes it flow more easily. All the monitoring that goes with medications is automatically triggered. It has a lot of checks and balances,” she said.

Barbara J. Matteson, executive director of Atria San Pablo in Jacksonville, Fla, said her facility was the eMAR pilot for Atria’s nationwide chain of assisted living facilities.

Matteson said the use of an eMAR has given staff at the facility more time with residents by avoiding end-of-the-month paperwork. It has also given the facility more assurance that medications are given correctly. The program allows the facility to upload a photo of each resident. “It helps to decrease the opportunity for errors of any kind,” she said.