Rona Gilbert

Friday, 22 September 2006 07:25

Electronic medical records

While the U.S. health care industry has been on the cutting edge of medical technology, many acknowledge the industry is woefully behind in the use of clinical information technology. While banking and other industries have made tremendous strides in this area, many providers have not had the resources to adopt new ways of dealing with their patients.

Thanks to President Bush, there is renewed interest in developing electronic medical records systems, according to Richard Streck, M.D., senior vice president of medical affairs at the Akron General Medical Center (AGMC.)

“President Bush has called for having all clinical information readily available to health care providers across the country,” he says. “That means having the information stored in an electronic format so it can be quickly transmitted anywhere in the country.”

Smart Business spoke with Streck about the benefits of electronic medical records and how the system is being developed.

How do medical providers access electronic patient data?
Much of this information will be available through the use of secure Internet sites. For example, our AGMC physicians are able to log onto a secure network over the Internet to access patient clinical information, including lab reports and X-ray images.

There’s been a lot of discussion about creating regional health care information Web sites where all of the health care providers in a region will share regional clinical information. This will build upon the separate information networks that hospitals like ours have built, and will link them together with the ultimate vision of linking all of the regional systems together throughout the country and even the world.

How are medical records converted to electronic data?
A lot of clinical information is already stored digitally, including X-ray images and laboratory data. Here at AGMC, we scan entire patient records upon patient discharge, allowing for electronic storage of historical data. The next big step is entering the physicians’ and nurses’ notes into the system. The ultimate goal is to have this information available electronically in real-time.

How are electronic medical records stored?
Typically, the information is stored in a central data repository, which is basically a large computer hard drive where all of the information that’s coming in from different clinical areas is funneled into one storage area on the computer. In essence, it’s a huge relational database. A unique patient identifier allows each of those elements to be linked to one individual patient.

How do medical providers ensure privacy of medical information?
There are multiple layers of security, including the requirement of a password and user ID to access the information. Research is also being done on the use of biometrics such as fingerprint readers or retinal scanners as another form of authentication for accessing clinical information. However, it’s important to remember that there is a security advantage to these electronic systems as they provide the ability to track who accesses records. With electronic records, it’s possible to track how often records are accessed, who is accessing the data, and what data was accessed.

How will patients benefit from electronic medical records?
There are multiple benefits to patients. First, there is an improved efficiency of care. A complaint we often hear from patients is the need to provide the same basic information every time they interact with a different medical department. Electronic systems can capture that information once and pass it along across the system.

More importantly, however, is the ready accessibility to pertinent clinical information when it’s needed. For example, if someone enters an emergency room and is unable to communicate or provide a medical history, the attending physician could have immediate access to important information about medications taken, drug allergies, previous surgeries and other health care issues or problems.

Lastly, these information systems can help us reduce medical errors, including legibility errors when a pharmacist can’t read a physician’s handwriting on a prescription. There’s also artificial intelligence built into these systems that flags the caregiver if there is a potential drug interaction or if the patient has an underlying medical condition that may make prescribing a certain medication problematic.

How will electronic medical records impact health care delivery?
One exciting potential benefit is in the area of disease management. We know from past experience and studies that there are specific steps we can take, including patient education, to help manage specific diseases. By building prompts and reminders into the system, caregivers can be sure they have implemented all of the best components of care for specific diseases.

RICHARD STRECK, M.D., is senior vice president of medical affairs at the Akron General Medical Center. Reach him at (330) 344-6789.

Thursday, 21 September 2006 06:07

Degree enhancement

For many people, including a growing number of adults seeking a new career in a field that is mission-driven, the nonprofit sector is an intriguing but often misunderstood career opportunity. Many people think that nonprofits are just in the human services areas, but there are a variety of sectors including higher education, health care, trade organizations, recreation, arts, animal welfare and the environment, according to Judy Singleton, assistant professor of sociology and social work at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

“Nonprofits work to make the community a better place and need effective leaders who can help organizations fulfill their missions,” she says. “There is a real need for leadership skills in the nonprofit sector, and pursing a nonprofit leadership course of study can give someone looking to enter the not-for-profit sector a real leg up in their career.”

Smart Business spoke with Singleton about the nonprofit leadership course of study.

What is a nonprofit leadership course of study?
A nonprofit leadership program is designed to give people who aspire to be in management positions in an organization the skills to lead a nonprofit organization. Part of the education is to help students better understand what a nonprofit organization is, how it’s governed and how it functions.

Nonprofit leadership programs can be offered to people who have already completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in any subject. It is an enhancement to the degree they already have, and the courses can be geared toward helping students learn very specific skills they’ll need.

Why would one look at nonprofit leadership as a course of study?
In a recent report of the nonprofit sector, we found that the number of people working in this particular area has more than doubled in the last 25 years; roughly 9.5 percent of the total work force. By 2010, the nonprofit work force is projected to reach 15 million, with most of the growth in the health and human services sector. There are simply more jobs available in the nonprofit sector today than ever before.

As a result of this growth, a number of schools across the country are offering nonprofit leadership courses to prepare students to work more effectively in the nonprofit sector.

What are the requirements to enroll in the nonprofit leadership program?
To obtain a certificate in nonprofit leadership at the Mount, a student must already have completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in any field and be accepted through the admissions process.

Students take such courses as accounting, basic organizational management, human resources management, leadership, marketing, news writing, public relations, and general nonprofit management and fund-raising. They need to take a total of 24 hours to complete the certificate.

What will a person gain from enrolling in a nonprofit leadership program?
Basic skills development — especially for someone who doesn’t have previous work experience in the nonprofit arena. While such programs often will not prepare someone to walk into a CEO-level position, it can provide a basic understanding of nonprofit management and the skills necessary to begin a career in a nonprofit organization — especially for someone who aspires to a leadership or management position.

Among the skills most needed from their employees in a survey of nonprofits: dealing with financial management, raising money, understanding how nonprofits are governed, and working with volunteers and boards.

What are the career opportunities in the nonprofit sector?
In addition to the job growth in the nonprofit sector, there are a variety of jobs ranging from human resources and public relations to financial management, fund-raising and development, and leadership.

The types of organizations also vary widely from higher education to trade organizations to animal rights and environmental organizations. There are more opportunities in this job sector than ever before, and having a certificate in nonprofit leadership can really help students not only get a foot in the door, but accelerates their careers as well.

JUDY SINGLETON is assistant professor of sociology and social work at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at judy_singleton@mail.msj.edu or (513) 244-3269.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006 12:28

Changing careers

For many people, changing careers means going back to school to obtain a graduate degree. Plenty of options are available these days. Prospective students have a plethora of programs and colleges from which to choose. But finding the right fit simply takes a little bit of advance planning and research, according to Marilyn Hoskins, MS, assistant director for graduate recruitment in the Graduate Admission Office at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

“There are several factors that should go into selecting a graduate program,” she says. “Things like a match in academic interest or career goals, flexibility, cost and accessibility of program faculty are all important factors to consider when searching for the right graduate program.”

Smart Business spoke with Hoskins about the benefits of obtaining a graduate degree when changing careers and how prospective students can select the right graduate program.

What should adults look for in a graduate program?
There are a number of things to consider. One is the size of the college and the graduate department, including the student-faculty ratio. Do smaller classes with close student-faculty interaction work best for you? It’s also important to consider the school’s admission requirements,. For example, are exams or essays necessary for admission? Adults with family and career responsibilities should also consider the program’s flexibility, including the availability of evening, weekend or online classes. Also explore scholarships, grants and loans. For example, graduate students in religious studies and one of the Mount’s programs in special education are eligible for tuition grants.

Most importantly, adults should find a program that fits their interests and career goals. Sometimes people choose an institution solely based on prestige and forget to focus on whether the program is a good match.

What are the advantages of seeking a graduate degree for career change?
One of the best advantages of a graduate degree is that it can often open the door to more expanded career opportunities, making graduates more marketable.

For some people, an advanced degree provides self-fulfillment to obtain a lifelong dream. This is especially common among people who are changing careers later in life.

Of course, an advanced degree can often provide increased financial rewards as well.

There’s also the intrinsic personal intellectual satisfaction that comes from obtaining an advanced degree. Some people simply enjoy the challenge of learning and receive tremendous gratification from obtaining a graduate degree.

What services should graduate students expect from the college of their choice?
Many schools, including the College of Mount St. Joseph, provide students with personalized services. Prospective students should expect to have direct contact with the graduate admission office as well as department chairs, program directors and faculty to obtain all of the information necessary to help them make an informed decision. This face-to-face interaction is crucial in helping prospective students understand how the program will benefit them and what they can expect from a career standpoint.

Information sessions are another important way for prospective students to have direct contact with faculty and staff. Once enrolled as a student, there are several ways colleges assist students, including providing an adviser to guide them through the graduate program from start to finish.

Students should expect to receive support and assistance from the college or university through career centers, tutoring and other services.

How can adults identify the right graduate program?
Start with researching prospective schools, which can be easily done online. Then consider visiting colleges or universities that meet your interest. A personal visit to speak with graduate admission staff, faculty or current graduate students provides a great opportunity to learn more about the institution and graduate program. Many program directors and department chairpersons are available to talk with prospective students.

How can adults best use graduate programs to work toward a new career while continuing in their current job?
It really boils down to doing some research about how the program is structured and how that structure will fit into your life. Many programs are offered on weekends, evenings or even online, allowing people to work full-time while obtaining their degree and working school into their lifestyle.

MARILYN HOSKINS, MS, is assistant director for graduate recruitment in the Graduate Admission Office at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach her at (513) 244-4723 or Marilyn_Hoskins@mail.msj.edu.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006 05:42

Skyrocketing property insurance

During the last several months, the property insurance market has seen a dramatic increase in premiums for catastrophic perils, including windstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, and earthquakes.

To help minimize their risk, insurance companies that write coverage for these perils in high-risk areas rely on purchasing reinsurance from a small and dwindling group of carriers.

According to Michael Perry, vice president at DLD Insurance, as fewer insurance and reinsurance companies provide catastrophic property insurance, premiums have skyrocketed, especially in high-risk areas.

“With the recent increase of major storms and other catastrophic events, it’s become more difficult for insurance companies to predict the risks, and many companies are simply afraid to write the policies,” he says. “And with fewer insurance and reinsurance companies writing policies, it comes down to basic supply and demand, which leads to higher premiums.”

Smart Business spoke with Perry about the reasons property insurance rates have skyrocketed and steps businesses can take to keep their rates under control.

Why have catastrophic property insurance rates skyrocketed?
We’ve seen a significant decrease in the number of insurance companies and reinsurance companies that offer catastrophic property insurance, resulting in an imbalance between supply and demand. The main reason this has occurred is the large number of named storms that have hit the East and Gulf coasts in recent years and forecasts that this trend will continue.

Mainly as a result of Hurricane Katrina last year, many of the reinsurance carriers providing financial backing to the commercial property insurance companies had to pay well over twice what they had predicted for the year. This increase in claims payments by the reinsurers has forced the reinsurance market to decrease the amount they can write going forward so they can stay in line with their surplus to exposure ratios required by the various insurance rating agencies.

There’s also a growing concern about the potential for a large earthquake on the West Coast due to the lack of earthquake activity since the Northridge Quake in 1994.

And lastly, we’re seeing a higher concentration of property values, including more expensive homes, greater population and large valued energy related assets, in the affected areas.

For all of these reasons, many insurance companies are passing the risk on to the insured by way of decreased capacity and increased pricing.

Who is most affected by these rising rates?
While catastrophic property insurance rates are increasing across the board, businesses on the coasts are especially feeling the sting. In particular, large property owners and manufacturers with distribution centers located in the West Coast, due to earthquake exposure, and the East and Gulf coast areas, due to hurricane and windstorm exposure, are being affected.

How can businesses keep their rates manageable?
Businesses should work with their broker to get into the marketplace sooner rather than later — and they shouldn’t wait until just before their renewal date. Also, businesses can sometimes get a break on their premiums if they can show that they have disaster plans in place. Demonstrating the ability to move products out of the path of a hurricane, protect property in a major storm or ensure that buildings have been retrofitted to survive a hurricane or earthquake can do this.

Businesses should also take a close look at how their insurance policy is structured. If they are willing to take on more of a financial risk by increasing their deductibles or self-insuring certain locations, they can potentially see premium savings. Businesses may also want to look to alternative property programs for covering inventory against catastrophic perils.

How can businesses obtain the most competitive rates?
It’s important that they work closely with their broker to determine a marketing strategy and ensure their broker is going to all available markets when researching carriers. Where a business may have used three carriers to cover their risks, due to the decrease in capacity of each carrier, five, six or seven may be needed to obtain the appropriate coverage for total insurable values. Working with a broker that knows how to fully utilize the marketplace is key.

How have rates for other types of insurance fared?
Non-catastrophe property insurance rates are increasing slightly while casualty insurance, which includes general and auto liability, is in the midst of a market cycle that has resulted in slight decreases in the cost of premiums the past few years. However, this may soon change as we expect to see slight increases in casualty premiums in the coming years.

Thanks to California reform measures introduced a few years ago, Worker’s compensation is seeing drastic reductions in premiums. In the directors & officers line, while premiums have continued to decrease, the rate of decline has flattened over the past year or so.

MICHAEL PERRY is a vice president at DLD Insurance. Reach him at mperry@dldins.com or (949) 553-5686.

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