Missoula’s two hospitals are gearing up to go live with electronic medical records.
The upcoming switch for St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center will mean a farewell to handwritten charts and to other vexing 20th century hospital experiences such as unnecessary duplication of tests.
Community Medical Center is on pace to go live in November, and St. Patrick Hospital, along with St. Joseph Hospital in Polson, will go live in January.
Ambulatory clinics operated by each of the hospitals already have tested the new electronic systems this summer.
“Making the transition from paper to electronic records is not easy, and a lot of processes have changed,” said Steve Carlson, CMC president. “But it is going well.”
The new records system is worth celebrating for many reasons, said Jeff Fee, CEO of St. Patrick Hospital.
“We get a lot of patients from outlying hospitals, and what this does is help create a single medical record for patients,” Fee explained. “This is more efficient for medical providers, and for our patients this will create much better access for people to access their own records and patient information.”
Although the two hospitals have chosen to use different technology – with St. Pat’s using the Epic system and Community using Cerner at the hospital and NexGen at its ambulatory clinics – sharing between the hospitals will be possible when the transition is complete.
“There is a common platform, an industry standard on how electronic records interface and that is a government mandate,” Carlson explained. “But beyond that, CMC and St. Pat’s have both committed our medical staffs’ best effort to fully integrate these two systems in order to share information between our two medical communities.”
The beauty of shared electronic records, whether between doctors or between hospitals, is that it creates a unified, patient-centered database that provides a comprehensive single-source system that will transform health care, Fee said.
Patients will benefit by having their clinical information at their fingertips and being able to act on other health-related activities, such as making an appointment, checking on a prescription and reviewing billing.
Patients also will benefit by having their clinical information available to caregivers at every point of care – from inpatient to ambulatory care.
For physicians and health care providers it means access to patient records even if a patient lives out of the area.
Because St. Pat’s is a level 2 trauma center, it is a regional hub for emergency care. Electronic records not only will be a time saver for medical teams trying to determine an emergency patient’s medical history – it could save lives.
“We get a lot of patients from outlying hospitals, and because of that we are looking at providing those hospitals with Epic,” Fee said. “Deer Lodge has signed on and we have been talking to a number of other hospitals about using Epic, and we have a verbal commitment from three hospitals.”
All facilities operated by Providence Health and Services – 27 hospitals, including St. Pat’s and St. Joseph – will transition to electronic records in January, Fee said.
The sophisticated software is pivotal in providing 21st century care to patients across western Montana.
The switch will be “transformational,” both hospital executives said.
Although change is always a challenge, health care professionals who are already working with the new system are pleased with the change.
“I think that we have much more complete records now and that it is improving our patient care,” said Rebecca Conroy, a family nurse practitioner with Community’s clinic in Stevensville. “The part that the patients really love is the patient plan, because they have something in their hand when they walk out the door.”
For both hospitals, the new world of patient records is a wake-up call to review other areas for improvement.
“We have processes that have worked well for us – it’s not that they are broken,” Carlson said. “But now here’s an opportunity to look at how we do our work and rethink it, and ask what is the best way and use of electronic medical records to augment that.
“It can truly result in better medical care.”
A new age in medical delivery and treatment is under way, Fee said.
Electronic records, he said, “is the first really visible piece of the beginning of what is truly a transformation in health care.”
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.