Further health care advances on the way

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 1, 2010

If one looks at changes in the greater Andalusia community in the past decade, greater access to health care is among the most significant, and an area that likely will continue to change.

Shirley Smith, Andalusia Regional Hospital’s CFO, said the local hospital’s entire focus changed in the last 10 years.

“Our focus changed from being a referral based hospital to working to provide care in Andalusia,” she said. “We had so many patients and physicians asking us to recruit different specialties. They were so tired of traveling out of town to receive health care.”

“In 2000, we had just become a LifePoint Facility and our CEO was Barry Keel,” Smith said. “LifePoint was a brand new company with a focus on hospitals in communities like Andalusia.”

Change was on the horizon.

“We began a period of construction and growth during that time,” she recalled. “We added the birthing center, the emergency room and the in-patient rehabilitation unit.”

The physicians’ community grew, too, with specialists in orthopedic surgery, otolaryngology (ENT), and urology.

But the even bigger changes were related to technology.

“There have been many technology advances in our imaging department — like the 1.5 tesla MRI — we were the first closed MRI unit within a 60-mile radius,” she said. “We added a 16-slice CT scanner that continues to provide incredible images. We are completely digital in that department.

“The digital mammography was the last diagnostic update in the department during 2008,” she said. “We have incredible technology here.

“When you hear President Obama talk about electronic patient records, we are already there and have been there for at least seven years,” she said. “We have an information systems department that works very hard to keep us all ahead of the curve.”

Health care will continue to change, ARH CEO Mark Dooley said.

“Advances in medical technology will take us toward less invasive procedures,” he said. “We will see more and more procedures move to the outpatient/same day setting as opposed to an overnight or several-day stay in the hospital.”

And while the Obama administration’s new health care plan will provide broader access to health care, it will also come with many new rules.

“We will see an increase in regulatory agencies with the president’s new health care plan,” Dooley said. “Emphasis on quality standards will increase and we will see more of these standards publicly reported.”