Contact: Thomas Hottman
By NORA AVERY-PAGE
H&N Staff Writer
A new electronic medical records system will be installed at Sky Lakes Medical Center throughout the next year, making access to records, for both patients and medical staff, much easier.
The electronic medical records system, called Epic, is available to Sky Lakes through the Asante Community Connect program, which acts as the vendor for the product. The new system will likely be up and running in physician offices this fall, and ready to use fully in Sky Lakes and its clinics by fall 2015.
"The key to good health care is good communication," said Laura Limb, information technology project manager and nurse at Sky Lakes.
Patient care comes first, Limb said, and the transition to electronic medical records is about safety.
Kara Kaefring, Sky Lakes' director of patient access and financial counseling, said partnering with another hospital system like Asante — which includes the Ashland Community Hospital, Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford and Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass — means Sky Lakes is able to afford the high-end records system.
The two hospital systems also share many patients, such as women with high-risk pregnancies for example, so having direct access to patient records electronically is a big benefit.
It also can be frustrating for patients to have to complete similar paperwork several times, even between local doctor's offices, Kaefring added.
"It's a huge benefit to the patients to have that all seamless," she said.
The use of a common electronic medical record system, "makes it easier for patients and caregivers in Southern Oregon to access patient information in a single, secure record," said Mark Hetz, chief information officer with Asante in a press release.
With the new coordinated electronic medical record system, caregivers will have access to all the appropriate clinical information they need at the time and place they need it, and that will improve patient care and safety, reduce unnecessary duplicate tests and speed up referrals between physicians in the region, Hetz added.
The new system makes access to records a lot easier, both for patients and medical staff, who will be able to take good care of patients and do it very quickly, said Tara Irvine, Sky Lakes health information management director.
"It's retrievable instantaneously," Irvine said.
Currently, for example, Irvine said collaboration can be problematic: records have to be passed around between nurses, physicians and other medical staff, or viewed separately if working with another hospital, but with Epic, several parties would be able to view records concurrently.
Sky Lakes also is working to launch a patient portal, in which patients would easily be able to view their records, Irvine said.
The hospital now has a large space dedicated to paper patient records, and it would be too daunting a task to transfer those files to the electronic system, Irvine said. Those paper records will be kept until 10 years after the last date of service, according to state law.
From the medical records standpoint, the paper records add a lot of time to patient care, said Jodie Newman, a health information management supervisor at Sky Lakes. Transferring paper records to another clinic or hospital can take hours or days, or are faxed in critical situations, Newman said.
Irvine said implementing the new electronic system is not just flipping the switch from paper to electronic records; parts of records have been electronic for years, and Irvine and her staff digitize, or scan, millions of pages each year.
But with the new Epic system, the e-records won't be scanned copies of handwritten records, which can be difficult to read. Instead, the records will be in a common platform, which is used throughout the state, Irvine said.
Records at Sky Lakes will be transitioning from what is called a hybrid record to fully electronic records, Irvine said.
Newman said there may be some fear associated with the privacy of electronic records, just as there was when online banking became popular years ago, but the e-records are actually more secure, and eventually, because patients will be able to view their records from home, they also will have more control over the information.
"I now have control over what is communicated on those records," Newman said, speaking hypothetically about her own records.
Limb stressed the new electronic system does not mean that patient records will be out there for everyone to see, but they could be accessed by approved parties when needed.
"It's exciting, I'm excited," Limb said.
But she, along with Kaefring and Newman, understand the transition will be different for the community. "I think from day one, patients will realize that we're moving toward something exciting," Kaefring said.
PHOTO: Nicole Trammell, a health information analyst at Sky Lakes Medical Center, files patient information in the hospital's records room.