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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI College of Pharmacy joins forces with West Warwick firm to make medical records available in emergencies

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 2, 2005 -- An elderly woman in Woonsocket suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.

The area hospital has some of her records because she has been treated there before, but she has been seeing specialists in Providence and Boston. How can medical professionals retrieve information about her prescribed medications and other medical records in the critical moments during this crisis?

The answer is through a joint initiative of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy and Professional Records Inc. of West Warwick, called ER Card, which provides medical professionals with comprehensive, round-the-clock medical information on patients.

The program, which is already in place in communities surrounding Kent Hospital, will now be offered in Woonsocket and Newport.

Initiated by a grant from the Rhode Island General Assembly, the program began in 2003 through a collaboration of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and Professional Records, which administers the ER Card program. Over the next two years, URI’s College of Pharmacy will manage $415,000 in legislative grants while working in cooperation with participating emergency care personnel and staff from the ER Card program. Legislative leaders, especially Sen. Stephen D. Alves, who is a strong proponent of the initiative, recognized the value of incorporating the ER Card program with the various outreach activities of the URI College of Pharmacy.

Called the Senior Standard Medical Records Demonstration Project, it is designed to make health care more effective and efficient in the emergency room by providing medical staff with up-to-date patient medical information in a matter of moments. In Warwick, Mayor Scott Avedisian made sure his emergency services personnel had access to the ER Card records by providing the rescue vehicles with laptop computers.

The goal in Warwick was to enroll 500 senior citizens in the project, but now there are more than 1,200 senior participants.

Programs that serve seniors in the target communities, such as senior centers, nursing homes, local housing authorities, the Visiting Nurse Association, and the College of Pharmacy’s outreach programs, are provided brochures, packets and contact information for ER Card.

Once enrolled, ER Card staff work with each patient to obtain a comprehensive medical record, which is then entered in a database for easy access and updating. Patients are given an ER membership card with a toll-free number that gives them, emergency rooms, emergency services personnel and doctors immediate round-the-clock access to their records. The process complies fully with federal privacy protection laws.

“This not only can save patients’ lives, it can also save money,” said Vice President Maria Gil, one of the company’s founders. “For example, a patient shows up at the hospital with severe abdominal pain. The emergency room doctors are about to order tests for appendicitis when the ER Card program informs them that the patient had his appendix removed 15 years ago.”

To make the program as easy to use as possible, patients are given window stickers and magnets for their homes that include a toll-free number for medical information, as well as key tags that can be of help to medical personnel when a patient is unconscious.

“We are thrilled to be affiliated with the College of Pharmacy,” Gil said. “The college, which already manages databases for other programs, has been such a help to us, particularly when we have pharmacy questions. Plus, the grant management is no small task.”

URI Assistant Pharmacy Professor Stephen Kogut said the entire goal of this project is to make care safer, especially in the emergency room. “The initial phase of the program is to see if the tools work in keeping health care professionals informed of their patients health status.”

Kogut said even a hospital that does not participate in the program can simply call the toll-free number carried by the patient and his records will be faxed to the hospital.

“There needs to be a central repository for drug information, because the medical system is so fragmented. This is just one opportunity to ensure that medications are used optimally,” Kogut said.

Those from the participating communities may call 822-1181 to enroll in the program.