In April, Grande Ronde Hospital (GRH) kicked-off a six-month project to transition 21 existing computer systems into Epic, an integrated multi-module computer system designed to work as one seamless tool. Trevor Jones, the Enterprise Systems Coordinator with GRH’s Information Technology (IT) department, is organizing the project. He believes what most GRH patients will notice first, once the transition is complete, is better and faster communication across all hospital and clinic services.
“Contemporary healthcare has become increasingly complicated. Today people encounter what has become an intricate mesh of individual practitioners, caregivers, and partners; each with their own little piece of the overall health care pie. Coordinating this care is a complex process that requires a significant number of tools to allow these pieces to work together. This conversion will improve the collection, storage, and sharing of information to ensure our patients receive the individualized and compassionate care they deserve,” Jones says.
As reliance on computer systems and electronic medical record keeping has become the industry standard, accompanying demands for improved and expanded functionality has been a regular occurrence, says Michael Hetrick, MD. As Hetrick transitions from a pediatrician in the clinic setting to his new role as Chief Medical Informatics Officer for the organization, he has become a key proponent of the Epic project.
“It had become increasingly clear to us that a state of the art upgrade where everything flows, speaks, and works together – especially the Electronic Health Record (EHR) – was a priority,” Hetrick explains.
While the current EHR used by GRH does an adequate job organizing and storing the health-related information of thousands of patients, it is limited in ability to share information among all the departments and clinics that provide care for the same patients. Transition to an “integrated” EHR will mean there will be one record for each patient that holds all information for both inpatient and outpatient settings. This capability will be a huge convenience and time saver for both patients and caregivers.
In the search for a better system, GRH found that Epic is internationally recognized as one of the best, if not the best, integrated EHR product in the world today, says Jones. Providers find it relatively intuitive and the integrated nature means better communication no matter where or when the patient is seen at GRH. For example, Jones explains, medications prescribed while in the clinic will be clearly listed if that same patient shows up at the Emergency Room. That is a small example, but it is notable for those patients who have ever tried to update all of their records for one minor change, he adds.
Because so many health care providers and systems use Epic, it will be easier for GRH patients to share their personal health information among more of their providers within and beyond the GRH system. Although the brand “Epic” may not be known to many people, some may be familiar with Epic’s MyChart patient portal, or Personal Health Record (PHR) used in larger systems throughout the country.
“Every patient should experience improved access to their GRH providers, as well as a more complete PHR with MyChart, which will replace our current MyHealth patient portal,” adds Jones.
In order to obtain the use of Epic products, GRH is collaborating with Providence Health Systems. Jones explains why the partnership was needed.
“We were unable to obtain Epic directly from the company because they simply do not do business with small and rural care providers. In fact, there is a joke in IT that they are so big, they would not even return our calls,” he says.
However, GRH learned that Epic has a program called Community Connect. That program allows larger health systems like Providence to sponsor smaller organizations like GRH. However, the opportunity to partner with Oregon systems offering a Community Connect program without restrictions is limited; not so with Providence.
“Not only does Providence have an existing presence in the region, their Community Connect program is structured in such a way that does not require GRH to sacrifice our independence,” Jones says.
The Providence Community Connect program is robust and has proven to be successful many times over in small, rural systems such as Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise, Jones adds. Which means the transition will also improve communication of health information between GRH and other regional entities like Wallowa that have chosen the Community Connect program.
Jones says this is without a doubt the biggest undertaking that the organization has ever done. The total transition will not be complete until late October. The massive endeavor will require effort from nearly every employee, department and clinic in the GRH system. A significant investment of time and capital, the transition will improve operational efficiencies and the overall patient experience, adds Hetrick.
“For the most part, over the next six months patients should see little in the way of change during their visits to the hospital or clinics, although there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes. Because this effort is in addition to our primary focus of caring for patients, we ask for the public’s patience as we prepare for the new system to go live in mid-October. We are working hard to ensure this preparation runs as smoothly as possible and once we transition to the new system, we will see an improvement to patient care communication,” Hetrick says.