Computer system tracks hospital availability

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A statewide computer monitoring system announced Monday should allow health officials to immediately know what hospitals have room for emergency patients.

Gov. Bob Holden and other state officials praised the system as an important homeland security tool -- something that could help spot trends of people showing up at hospitals in the case of a biological terrorist attack.

"Under the old system, it may be quite some time before we ever knew that something was occurring," Holden said at a news conference outside the emergency room entrance at University Hospital in Columbia.

"Under this system, we can know really instantaneously if something is happening and we can move to respond to it."

Holden's homeland security adviser, Tim Daniel, called the hospital-tracking system "a big deal."

"This is historic, because this is the first time you've got regional hospitals being able to communicate on a statewide basis," Daniel said.

The computer network is run by Milwaukee, Wis.-based EMSystem, which said Missouri and New Mexico are the only places using the program statewide.

The system also is used in about two dozen metropolitan areas. It had been used in the St. Louis area since January 2000 and was instituted in the Kansas City area shortly after that, said Becky Miller, vice president of the Missouri Hospital Association.

Hospitals in the rest of Missouri began testing the system in August, as did the state Department of Health and Senior Services and local public health offices, Miller said.

The hospital association is paying the $219,000 needed for the system in its first year. In future years, the state expects to use federal funds to cover the $179,000 in annual licensing fees, plus additional training and technical support costs, said interim health department director Ron Cates.

Daniel said the hospital tracking system potentially could be expanded to include such things as the amount of available beds or medical supplies.

For now, the computer system can serve as an indicator that something may be occurring that otherwise is not easily detected, officials said.

"One of the first signs we've got a problem that's targeted to a certain area is our hospitals are overrun or our hospitals are off line," Cates said.

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