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Drug Information System: A key tool for emergency room triage

Donna Gallant, an emergency room (ER) nurse at Prince County Hospital in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, says that for triage nurses, the province's online Drug Information System (DIS) is a valuable tool that makes for safer health care.

"It helps us to be more confident in dealing with patients because we know their medication history and that we aren't missing something. It allows us to get an idea of their potential diagnosis and schedule them for care."

"With the DIS, we can get the information right away."

Makes a big difference

"Gallant, who has been a nurse for 35 years, said her hospital sees about 32,000 ER patients a year. When patients arrive, getting their list of medications is an important part of the triage process. Before the DIS came online, nurses were dealing with patients who couldn't remember their medications and family members who would come in with sacks of pills, but weren't sure if that was all the patient was taking.

"We'd have to wait to contact the pharmacy or the family doctor and have the meds list faxed over during their working hours. If it was the middle of the night, this meant a delay and could cause problems with new meds being ordered and possibly reacting with their actual meds. But with the DIS, we can get the information right away. This makes a big difference."

Vital information available quickly

Gallant said knowing patients' medications quickly is vital in caring for critical care patients - for example, when it comes to cases involving a drug mix-up or an overdose - especially with seniors and mentally ill patients.

When dealing with patients who have overdosed on drugs, the care team can check their DIS profile to see if one of their prescriptions could be the cause. For example, she said, if they are taking lithium, a mood stabilizing drug, and their symptoms match those of a lithium overdose, the staff can begin resuscitation while awaiting the results of toxic drug level tests.If patients have mixed up their meds, such as an antidepressant and a heart pill, this can sometimes cause coma or death. "If we have the information from the DIS, we can start treatment right away and anticipate an admission to the intensive care unit sooner," Gallant said.

Related to this story

Gallant added that the ER staff also has access to other parts of a patient's health record from the hospital's clinic information system. This includes lab and diagnostic imaging reports, information on health care providers, the name of the family doctor, and whether the patient has had superbugs. Having all this information readily available allows the ER staff to diagnose and provide treatment faster. "We aren't guessing while waiting for the information to arrive. It is there, online, and we can use it to ensure the patient gets appropriate and safe health care."

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