A seizure disorder has brought Allison Small to Seattle Children's more than 50 times. Her mother remembers how stressful communication with the medical team used to be.
"You would have to tell your story over and over and over again," said Cindy Small.
Tracking patients was frustrating for staff too.
"I can remember as an intern and resident having to run around trying to find the paper record or find old volumes that are stored in medical records," said Dr. Mark Del Beccaro.
That's all changed. Today Allison's medical team is ready before she arrives.
"Within less than five minutes before the ambulance gets there we can pull up the patient's name, open their chart, look through all their clinic visits, and their recent labs, and whatever it is we think we need to know," said Dr. Del Beccaro.
Now a study on computerized physician ordering systems has found a dramatic benefit. At Packard Children's hospital in California patient deaths dropped twenty percent in the 18 months after computer care was adopted.
Dr. Del Beccaro shows ways the system improves safety. It catches medication mistakes and it allows the team to discuss images remotely, saving crucial time.
"Prior to doing this the only way I could do that was to run down to the radiologist with a film, and have them look at it and then run back to where I am," said Dr. Del Beccaro.
Doctors can follow what they call the best practice treatments for hundreds of conditions programmed into the computers.
"So if somebody comes in for asthma, it doesn't matter whether they're admitted at 2 am, 2pm, Saturday, or Monday they'll get the best evidence care that we think there should be," said Dr. Del Beccaro.
Cindy Small says there's another advantage.
"They also have a printout that mom or dad or caretaker can look at and say yes this is right, or no, this is not right," she said.
Right now fewer than 10 percent of hospitals nationwide are equipped with the computer system. The researchers say the California hospital also made changes in staffing and procedures in addition to computerizing records. All combined, it helped save more lives.