Call Center Gives Doctors Toll-Free Access to Patient Histories

Universal Medical History & Information, Inc., a newly-launched medical records company, seeks to provide consumers with a single, easily accessible database of their medical history through a toll-free number.

Individuals who submit their medical histories to the company, based in Morristown, NJ, will carry cards bearing the company's 24 hour toll-free number. Medical professionals who find the card in the case of an accident or other emergency can contact registered nurses who staff two call centers in Canada, communicating details about patients' medical histories to emergency medical technicians or doctors. Nurses will validate that the person calling is a medical professional before releasing information.

“With HMOs and people changing medical plans, there is a fracturing taking place in the medical industry,” said Tom Croarkin, vice president of marketing for the company. “People's records are in several different doctors' offices and there is no one place where the information is consolidated.”

The company's service, called UMED, is aimed at people 55 and older. As the service can be accessed by telephone from anywhere in the world and includes translation into hundreds of different languages, it is also targeted toward people who travel often.

Universal Medical History & Information plans to grow its membership primarily through partnerships with organizations such as health maintenance organizations, travel companies, associations, financial services companies and benefits companies. Individuals not affiliated with a UMED partner company can also subscribe to the service, but efforts to attract individuals are limited to the company's Web site. Croarkin would not reveal what partners the company has already enlisted.

Currently the company has a 15-seat call center in Toronto that it plans to expand to 25 seats, and a 15-seat center in Montreal that overflows to home-based nurses, said Shari Gottschalk, vice president of operations. The company initially will service the United States and Canada but plans to expand globally when it starts forming partnerships with companies outside of the United States. Translation services are provided through AT&T Language Line services, which offers instant access to translators though third party conference calls.

Nurses who staff the lines have five years of nursing experience, preferably including experience in the emergency unit or intensive care unit. They then receive two weeks of classroom training, followed by two weeks of mentoring, which involves watching trained call center agents and making calls under the observation of the experienced agents.

While the nurses are not supposed to diagnose ailments, their medical experience was considered necessary to ensure clear communication with medical professionals, said Gottschalk.

“They are there to assist in the retrieval and receipt of information,” she said. “Their training will be useful because they will be able to speak to the doctors and EMTs using their terms.”

Similarly, while nurses who update the data in patients' records are not required to evaluate the information as it is entered, they may flag the customer that something is unusual.

The UMED service includes two programs at two different price levels. Users of the Emergency Record System are responsible for updating their record on their own. Members of the Comprehensive Record System enlist their doctor to fill out a form detailing their medical history and supplement that with information they provide on their own. Those who participate in the Comprehensive Record System will be given copies of the report to be verified by themselves and their doctors.

In some cases, members may opt to include an emergency contact number that nurses at the center will call after providing emergency medical information to the medical professionals. In another feature of the service, nurses can set the program to note future dates for patients' medical tests and can follow up to see if patients want to include their test results in their UMED record.

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