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CFVH's Epic Journey

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

by Ed Moreth of the Sanders Co. Ledger

Clark Fork Valley Hospital kicked-off their entry into the world of electronic medical records with a special event last week. The hospital will be implementing a shared electronic health record (EHR) known as Epic? and hopes to go live with the system in March next year. The system connects patients and physicians electronically enabling higher quality and more personalized care.

When fully implemented, local patients from both the hospital and its clinics in Plains, Thompson Falls and Hot Springs will have secure on line access to their health record through a patient portal. That will allow patients to use the Internet to help manage and receive information about their health, request appointments, view test results, communicate with their care team and even view and pay bills on line.

Whenever patients are seen at CFVH or a Providence Health facility such as St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, providers will be able to work from the same comprehensive, continually updated electronic record creating real time access to information. This will help physicians provide better coordinated care and improve the quality of healthcare across the region.

The hospital held the event to formally introduce the EHR System to the staff and community. The system replaces the hard copy record system, and will streamline patient forms and potentially make appointment times go faster, more efficiently, and less costly for the hospital and patient.

Nearly 100 hospital staff members, including personnel from its clinics gathered at the hospital Thursday, when Dr. Gregory Hanson, the hospital's president and CEO, laid out the plans to move forward with the change.

"The workflow changes are intended to improve current processes and enhance patient safety and quality," said Hanson about the system, which will be put into operation by hospital staff and Providence Health & Services, a nonprofit Catholic organization based in Seattle. The hospital has been working closely with the Providence staff that are bringing the same system on line at St. Patrick Hospital. Tagged "Our Epic Journey," Hanson gave a presentation to provide some of the background about the program, the people involved, and a general plan of implementation.

The Epic program, which was designed specifically for the healthcare industry, will not only allow hospital staff the capability of reviewing a patient's medical history and chart electronically, but the information can be instantly sent to another hospital or clinic, said Hanson.

Forty percent of the people across the country are part of the Epic system already, according to Tonya Revier, the marketing and customer service specialist at Clark Fork Valley Hospital. "The main purpose is to transition from paper records and charts to an electronic version that is more accessible and ultimately a more efficient way of doing business," said Revier. "The information is more readily available for physicians and this option is also helping patients to be more involved in their care," she added. Revier said providers will be able to more quickly search for specific patient information, too.

"Another benefit to our facility is the improved and streamlined workflows for all users," said Russell Logan, the hospital's executive assistant who is part of the CFVH team working on the conversion. "The providers will have access not only to patient information, but an immense library of treatment information is at their fingertips as well," he added.

The new software program can also be used for billing and scheduling, as well as referrals, physician orders, prescriptions, and tests, according to Logan.

"We have a lot of work to complete before this date (March 2013), but we are all very excited about the benefits for our patients as well as for our providers," said Logan.

Revier noted that eventually all hospitals will be required to have electronic records, which is the avenue the industry is moving. "We want to do it now to take advantage of incentives that will help us pay for it," she said, adding that the hospital has been considering the change for the last two years. Incentive funding for parts of the system come from funds from the Affordable Care Act which also set goals around meaningful use standards that the hospital will have to meet. The decision to go with the Epic system was the consensus of the evaluating team that wanted to continue the foundation of sharing IT and clinical resources between St. Patrick Hospital and CFVH that has been in place for over more than a decade.

The hospital will be getting guidelines concerning the scanning process and how far back a patient's electronic records will go, but the present hard copy records will continue to be stored at the hospital for an undetermined time. The new records will be duplicated electronically and not require paper backup, said Logan. Hanson said that people need not be concerned about confidentiality problems because the same Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – HIPAA – requirements remain in effect. "The new electronics health record systems, such as EPIC, have built in audit capabilities that will provide tracking of access to health information to a much higher level than has been available prior," said Logan. "Any access to a health record will be traceable," he said. "The systems are extremely secure and hospital employees only have access to what they need to do their job," said Revier.

Revier was unsure when staff members will begin scanning hard copy records into computers, but said that a team of professionals from Providence will be helping with the process. Hanson told his staff that within the next 30 days they will develop a training plan for the new system and start buying the hardware equipment needed to make the transition. He said the hospital's Epic Journey aim is three-fold: to improve the experience of the patient's care, to improve Sanders County residents' health, and to reduce the cost of healthcare.

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