Assessing electronic health record readiness at camp

by Michael Ambrose, M.D.

As the transformation of our world by digital technology continues, and smart phones and tablets guide the way we communicate, it is essential that camps leverage this technology to improve the flow of health information and do everything in their power to reduce unnecessary risk and liability.  Given the many opportunities for serious mistakes and costly mishaps when delivering health care each summer, camps are adopting Electronic Health Records (EHRs) now more than ever.Technology has been successfully used in many industries to improve safety and decrease human error.  In the camp setting, Electronic Health Records have the largest impact in three specific areas: collecting and reviewing health information, the administration of medications, and tracking illnesses and injuries.

Paper records can be cumbersome, easily misplaced, and cannot be readily used for any meaningful decision analysis.  Electronic Health Records offer complete documentation that is both legible and organized, making a camp clinic more efficient and helping camp health staff avoid mistakes.  An EHR can guarantee that all crucial information is obtained and send automatic alerts to those who have missing information.  An Electronic Health Record maintains security and privacy, allowing only authorized staff to review individual camper and staff health forms before the start of camp.  Identifying and addressing medical concerns before campers and staff arrive will help ensure a safe, healthy and successful experience for everyone.

Medication errors are the most common type of medical error, and a significant cause of adverse health events in the pediatric population.  Using an EHR at camp eliminates the problem of illegible handwriting and transcription errors.  An Electronic Medication Administration Record, or eMAR, can ease and simplify initial camper check-in and ensure safer and faster medication administration throughout the camp season.  This technology aids summer camps in documenting when medications are given to campers and staff, and will ensure that they follow the "five rights" of medication administration - right patient, right drug, right dose, right time and right route. 

Tracking visits to the camp clinic on paper can also be time consuming and inefficient.  With multiple user access and data entry, an Electronic Health Record can improve the flow of daily clinic call, and most importantly enable meaningful use of the collected illness and injury data.  An EHR enables camp health staff to generate rapid reports and analyze medical data so they may eliminate risky situations from day-to-day activities.  A camp nurse may analyze illness rates each week, and uncover a gastrointestinal illness starting to spread throughout camp, while a camp director is able to review injury trends after each session, to discover that a waterfront activity at camp is a cause for many sprained ankles, and more dangerous than they initially thought.  An Electronic Health Record can aid camp health staff in their efforts to curb illness before it spreads and prevent future injuries from happening.

The less immediate and obvious benefits of Electronic Health Records are just now starting to be seen as EHRs are being used to propel camp medical research efforts.  Recent studies have evaluated head lice, food allergies, and disaster and emergency preparedness at camp, and with electronic epidemiologic data collected through Electronic Health Records, camps can now make informed decisions as they work to improve the health and safety each summer.

Adopting an Electronic Health Record at camp is not always an easy decision.   Every camp exploring an EHR should review their goals and needs to help guide decision-making and throughout the implementation process.  It is important that every camp assess their readiness to make the change from paper records to an EHR to ensure a successful transition.  Are the camp’s administrative processes organized, efficient, and well documented?  Are clinical workflows efficient, clearly mapped out, and understood by all camp health staff?  Are camp health staff comfortable with technology?  Change is not always easy, and current processes may actually become less efficient with an EHR.  Camp health staff should be prepared and expect to change practices they may have had in place at their camp for years, in order to adopt new best practices with an EHR.  A designated leadership team and thoughtful implementation plan can help the camp more easily adapt to the new system.  

As camp healthcare providers, our goal is to ensure the health and safety of all campers and staff while they are away from home.  We do this by using every tool at our disposal.   We have instant access to social media in our pockets and on our wrists, and with Electronic Health Records we have the ability to access up-to-the-minute patient data instantly as well.  There is no doubt that EHRs can raise the standard and quality of care delivered at camps.  Relying on handwritten instructions is a thing of the past, and easy-to-use, intuitive tools to verify allergies and medications, and to track illnesses and injuries is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to make sure that we can keep everyone at camp healthy and safe.

Dr. Michael Ambrose, Owner and Director of CampDoc.com, earned his M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School and is a board-certified pediatrician.  He has been involved in camping and camp health for over 10 years, and having spent several summers in camp clinics, remains devoted to the continual improvement of the camping industry and creating innovative solutions for camps and camp clinics.

Ambrose Michael HeadshotFor more information about CampDoc.com and web-based health management, please visit campdoc.com or call 734-636-1000.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.