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Innovation streamlines process for digitizing medical records

PatientLink saves precious time for health care providers; leads to better care
by Paula Burkes Modified: June 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm •  Published: June 18, 2013

At first glance, Debi Willis' patented software product for the health care industry doesn't seem so high-tech. It captures patient information typically gathered by filling in bubbles on paper questionnaires.

But southwest Oklahoma City-based PatientLink not only is saving thousands of health care providers nationwide countless hours in uploading data to patients' electronic medical records (EMRs), but also carries the potential to profoundly improve and advance patient care, said Willis, founder and chief executive.

Her product, which costs $7,000 per system, uses a scanner and sophisticated software to simultaneously read and pull data from both sides of customizable patient questionnaires to automatically populate the corresponding EMR fields — from family backgrounds, past surgeries, drug allergies and diseases to current symptoms, medications, and more.

PatientLink interfaces with the industry's most widely used EMR applications, including Allscripts, Greenway and GE Centricity. The company, which employs 16 and has annual sales of $2.5 million, serves clients across the U.S., including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; Catholic Health Initiatives and Integris Health.

A former senior systems engineer for the Federal Reserve Bank, Willis founded PatientLink in 1999 so doctors wouldn't have to type in information or hire nurses to do it.

“Entering the information was very slow and very frustrating,” she said. “Early on, one physician walked away from a half-million-dollar investment in computers and a server, saying ‘I didn't go to med school to be a transcriptionist.'” Others since have closed their practices because of the growing burden, she said.

With health care reform, and greater federal reporting requirements, the paper-to-digital challenge is even more onerous, Willis said.

But with PatientLink, it takes less than 10 seconds to import data, completely and accurately, into an EMR, she said, while patients can swiftly answer the questions independently in doctors' waiting rooms.

Some PatientLink customers choose to gather information via iPads or offer surveys online, but paper forms — which don't break or become outmoded and require no secured logins or assistance — prove the most effective, she said. Along with darkened bubbles, product scanners can read Xs or check marks made with various pencils and pens — except for grease pencils or red ink, she said.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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