Hurley Medical Center’s move to electronic medical records system is part of a national initiative

Hurley Medical Center’s move to electronic medical records system is part of a national initiative

Featured April 5, 2012 | | Sarah SchuchMLive

The days of trying to read a doctor’s handwriting are ending.

Patients won’t have to struggle to remember their entire medical history and physicians won’t shuffle through piles of paperwork to learn crucial information about their patients.

A month after Epic, an all-electronic medical records system, was implemented at Hurley Medical Center, officials say the system has enabled physicians to more efficiently care for and learn about their patients – an idea that is quickly growing around the state and country.

By 2014, the goal nationwide is to have electronic medical records for every patient, including medical history, allergies and any other noteworthy information. The initiative started with the Bush administration in 2004 and was reaffirmed by the Obama administration in 2009 to cut medical errors, improve health and control costs, said Tim Pletcher, Michigan Health Information Network executive director.

The system at Hurley makes it much easier for physicians and patients to communicate and not miss any important details, said Dr. Mike Roebuck, Hurley chief medical information officer.

“What we basically did, we took everything we used to use to take care of a patient and put it into a computer system,” he said. “The advantage of that is that it’s instantly available to everybody.”

The system at Hurley was begun on March 4, the same day the new trauma center opened to the public. Every room was fitted with a computer, where staff can pull up information, such as doctors’ notes, nurses’ notes, patient vital signs, discharge papers, data from biomedical equipment, IV pumps and ventilators, medical history and medications.

The information can be retrieved from virtually anywhere, including nurses’ and physicians’ homes.

Patients will also have bar codes on their hospital bracelets that when scanned show what medication they are prescribed, the dosage and the time they are supposed to take it, Roebuck said. By scanning the code, nurses will make sure everything lines up with the correct patient, helping to avoid potentially dangerous errors, he said.

If time, dosage or patient identity don’t match, a big stop sign will appear on the computer screen.

“Everyone is working from the same set of data points. You can get a lot of advantages: quality, safety and efficiency. … The system protects the patient,” Roebuck said.

“Every order that is put in is cross-checked with the patient’s entire history … (including) reaction with a medication in the past. Again, that’s something that’s not possible in a (written) patient chart.”

A national initiative

Currently, Hurley can easily share information only with other facilities that use the Epic system, but the goal is for health professionals across the country to have immediate access to patients’ medical records when needed.

The system, especially when it goes nationwide in years to come, will prevent gaps in care, Pletcher said.

Pletcher is executive director of Michigan Health Information Network, the state of Michigan’s initiative to promote electronic exchange of health information between health care agencies across the state.

Under the Michigan Health Information Network are six local networks throughout the state. Although the state of Michigan does not keep track of how many hospitals have some sort of electronic medical records system, one of the largest health information networks, Michigan Health Connect, currently works with 52 hospitals and more than 1,000 doctor offices.

Electronic records will become very detailed, specific and coded to ensure accuracy and proper care, Pletcher said.

“The most important thing is there are thousands of medical errors that happen, mistakes because people don’t have the information or don’t understand the information,” he said. “Those are really things we can fix. But we can’t take down the defect rate without automation.”

Electronic records systems are the way of the future.

In the last 18 to 24 months partnership with Michigan Health Connect has grown exponentially, said George Bosnjak, business development manager.

“We would expect that in the future all the hospitals would in all ways be connected nationally,” he said.

McLaren-Flint implemented an electronic medical records system more than a decade ago, but still has some work to do before it’s completely paperless, said Diane Kallas, vice president of nursing services at McLaren.

Nurses have work stations on wheels they use to access to patient charts, which include medical history, medication information and other vital information. Physicians can get that same information from their offices, as well.

Within the next two years, McLaren will add the patient bar code system and a computerized medical order-entry system.

Genesys Regional Medical Center isn’t far behind Hurley.

This summer, Genesys is initiating an electronic health record system with the primary focus on the emergency departmen. It will continue to implement the system in stages throughout 2012 and 2013, Chris Palazzolo, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Genesys Health System, said in a statement to the Flint Journal.

For the past eight months, a design team of more than 100 Genesys nurses, physicians and other caregivers has been documenting current clinical processes and designing the computer systems that will be most effective and user-friendly, he said.

Roebuck said $25 million has already been spent to implement the Epic system at Hurley. When the system is complete, the cost will total about $40 million.. It’s no simple process to put every aspect of a hospital into a computer, he said.

But it’s a necessary next step for every hospital in the state and country, Roebuck said.

“I think it has caught on already. Nearly every hospital in the country is doing electronic medical records implementations. … It’s going that way really, really fast,” said Roebuck, adding that Hurley has been working on implementation for the past three years.

“If hospitals haven’t thought about doing it, then they are way behind.”

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Sarah Schuch can be reached at 810-341-3789. You can follow her on Twitter@SarahSchuchFJ or subscribe on Facebook.