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Providers Update Electronic Health Record Systems

By Vicky Janowski, posted Jun 20, 2014
Paula Bruner (left) and Jeanne Benfield, associate directors at Wilmington Health, examine the practice's upgraded electronic health record system, which is slated to roll out in June. (Photo by Mark Steelman)
As electronic health records continue to evolve, area medical providers are rolling out new systems to improve how doctors track patients and how easily patients can tap into their treatment information.
Wilmington Health officials said the practice plans to go live in June with a major overhaul of its electronic health records system.

The practice is switching to a system from Pennsylvania-based NextGen HealthCare. It’s an upgrade from the system Wilmington Health first implemented 10 years ago said Jeanne Benfield, associate director for Wilmington Health who has been part of the core team working on the conversion for the past 18 months.

“It is more robust software,” she said of the new system. “It does a better job of capturing some of the patient information, specifically patient [health] complaints. It also interacts with practice management systems, reducing cost-of-care sharing across the board.”

Officials said the program would enhance coordination of patients’ care between providers, securely store patient information and manage population health.

“To continually improve the quality of care we provide, we must integrate the latest technology into our services,” Wilmington Health CEO Jeff James said in a statement. “As the largest multi-specialty provider in the area, we require an EHR [electronic health record] that lets providers communicate with specialists while keeping patients in the loop on their care. The new NextGen Healthcare EHR will help accomplish these goals.”

Health providers in recent years have been beefing up electronic health records in large part because of federal rules pushing for meaningful use of the technology and tying those steps to reimbursement levels.

But the electronic records also are being touted as ways to avoid duplication of medical services, monitor a patient’s treatments and medications and create a more accurate and easily accessible patient history.

Along with that comes more ways for patients to access their own health records.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center, which two years ago rolled out its electronic health record system from Wisconsin-based Epic, continues to expand its patient portal called MyChart.

The hospital this summer is expanding access to MyChart to inpatients, so that they can log onto their account and see their records while at the hospital, with updates to medication changes or discharge instructions.

Patients seeing any of the hospital’s affiliated physicians or urgent care clinics have been able
to see those records already.

“All of our NHRMC Physician Group practices now have access to the ambulatory part of Epic,” hospital spokeswoman Martha Harlan said, adding that Glen Meade Center for Women’s Health, which became the most recent practice to join NHRMC Physician Group will go live soon on the Epic system. “This continuity of care from practice to hospital to urgent care is a lot more seamless now with MyChart.”

Tad Dunn, chief medical information officer at NHRMC, pointed out that a number of health systems in the state have gone with Epic as the provider for their records systems. He pointed to WakeMed in the Raleigh area, UNC Health Care and Duke University Health System as some examples.

“Right now, just above 70 percent of all people in North Carolina have a chart in Epic,” he said. “You think about the potential among health care providers.”

But that includes a number of larger health systems – a major reason why Wilmington Health went with another vendor instead of Epic was cost, Benfield said. Electronic health records can be a major investment for providers.

In a recent national survey of hospital executives, 49 percent pointed to health IT costs as their largest capital investment in the coming year. Only 22 percent said clinical equipment would be their largest investment, according to the survey conducted by Premier Inc.

Dunn said that while Epic has been a popular choice, it’s not the only vendor for the systems.

“Seamless is the goal,” he said. “The next thing we will see is increasing efforts among electronic medical record vendors to connect with each with other.”

Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center also is in the process of implementing its new electronic health records system.

Winston-Salem-based Novant Health is rolling out its system, also from Epic, to its hospitals and
outpatient locations statewide. Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte was the health system’s first facility to have Epic running, a switch that took place in October 2013, officials said.

“In order to ensure a successful rollout of the electronic medical record, Novant Health has taken a phased approach to implementing the EMR across our 14 medical centers and approximately 450
outpatient locations,” Novant spokeswoman Amy Myers said.

All of the local Novant Health medical groups have implemented the Epic system and MyChart patient portal, Myers said, adding that the Brunswick hospital was slated to also go live on it next summer.
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