End of the paper patient charts?ECH continues conversion to electronic records

By on June 15, 2011

By: ROCHELLE A. SHENK Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Nurse Melissa Young works on one of the new portable electronic patient charts. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)Nurse Melissa Young works on one of the new portable electronic patient charts. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Ephrata Community Hospital (ECH) is in the midst of a major project-converting paper patient charts to an electronic format or electronic medical record system (EMR).

John Jabour, ECH vice president of information systems and chief information officer, said that research for an EMR package began in 2006 and 2007. Implementation, which began in 2008, is an ongoing process that’s expected to be complete in the next two years. Jabour asks patients to be understanding during this transition to electronic records.

"They’ve been well-trained but it is new to our staff, so we appreciate the patients’ understanding," he said.

Khiet Trinh, M.D., ECH’s chief medical information officer and a member of the conversion team, said that there are a lot of advantages to an EMR.

"With a paper chart, only one person at a time can use it. Electronic records enable a number of health providers to view the record at the same time. That’s important, but the main benefit is patient safety. A physician can check when diagnostic tests were last completed so they’re not duplicated. He or she may also check for allergies to medications as well as current medications so that there’s no interaction between new and any current medications," he explained.

It also facilitates evidence-based treatment; the EMR system indicates what are the current best practices for the situation. The EMR system that ECH has invested in, updates the best practices guidelines quarterly, so the most current information is available. Additionally the new system tracks certain core measures that payers such as health insurers are requiring the hospital to report. Dr. Trinh noted that previously that report had to be compiled by searching through records, which was time-consuming.

ECH has had a number of milestones, with the most recent one being the PCS (Patient Care System) going online at the hospital itself in January. Jabour said that hospital patients will notice some changes including a barcode on their patient wristband, which helps reduce patient misidentification.

"The barcode is scanned prior to administering the medication or doing testing or procedures. It’s a check to ensure that the right medication and dosage is given to the patient or that he or she is being given the correct test and that the patient does not have allergies to the medication or the test is not being duplicated," Dr. Trinh said.

He stressed that while the EMR system is intended to make healthcare delivery more efficient and safe, it is not intended to replace the human connection of the staff and physicians.

"Our mantra is high-tech, high-touch," he said.

ECH’s diagnostic centers already have access to the EMR system, and rollout has started with a component of the system to the hospital’s practices. After the practices are online, ECH intends to link to independently-owned practices.

"The goal is to have a community of linked medical practices with seamless communications and sharing of information," Dr. Trinh said.

Dr. Trinh, who helps to orient new physicians that are part of ECH’s medical staff, said that the new batch of physicians is trained in EMR systems.

"In 10 years doctors will wonder how they worked with paper charts," he said.

Additionally in the next few years, patients will be able to access their own medical records electronically.

"That’s something that patients have been asking for," he commented.

It all may sound simple, but both Jabour and Dr. Trinh stress that ECH has committed a significant amount of human and financial resources to the project.

"We’ve invested a lot of dollars behind the scenes to make sure that patient information is secure and private. We’ve also invested a lot in training our existing employees and have hired a number of new employees from the local area," Jabour stressed. Although he declined to provide a cost for the EMR system, converting the data and training staff, he did note is in the millions of dollars.

There are also some business continuance measures in the EMR system — data is backed-up on a frequent basis and stored onsite as well as at two different offsite locations. Each department in the hospital has a downtime procedure to follow in the event that power or the system is out for an extended period. Additionally, the paper patient charts (past medical records) that were input into the EMR are stored offsite. More CHARTS, page A7

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