What was once a futuristic concept in medical care - something that held great promise for patients and medical providers alike - will soon become a reality at St. Patrick Hospital.
Aptly named, the hospital's new technology is called "Epic" and is a system that will connect health-care providers across the region through a connected, single electronic medical record.
"The fundamental feature that Epic brings is an integrated and unified patient-centered database," said Jeff Fee, hospital president and chief executive for the Western Montana Region of Providence Health & Services. "It will transform the way we provide care, resulting in improved patient care.
"Epic will provide us with a comprehensive single-system approach, including everything from registration to clinical orders, and medical records and billing."
More to the point, patients will benefit by having their clinical information available to their caregivers at every point of care: inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory, community and regional locations.
The new technology is viewed as a great advancement in medical care by Dr. Jeff Lindley, a family practitioner at Grant Creek Family Practice.
"As a primary care physician, I will better be able to provide care to my patients because I can access information about their most recent emergency room visit or their latest specialty clinic visit," Lindley said. "I will also be able to access imaging, show patients their X-ray results in the exam room, check medication interactions and receive prompts about potential tests that are due."
Because the Providence Health & Services system serves 27 hospitals, including St. Patrick Hospital, and partners with a host of clinics and physicians, it will have an impressive reach across western Montana - and beyond.
"Providence is maximizing the value of this system by bringing practitioners together from across the system to ensure this system is built using best practices that will drive better outcomes and lower the cost of care through reducing duplication and creating efficiencies," said Dr. Mark Sanz of the International Heart Institute of Montana.
Community Medical Center is also moving to an electronic health records system.
However, it has chosen to go a different route from St. Patrick Hospital and will use NexGen Healthcare Information Systems for outpatient use and a system developed by Cerner, said Steve Carlson, Community Medical Center's president.
Despite the differing systems, the two Missoula hospitals will continue to effectively and efficiently share patient information, Carlson said.
"We bought an interface engine that allows us to interface with other systems like Epic," Carlson said. All of the programs are top-ranked.
"They are all wonderful and the technology will continue to evolve that will allow us robust sharing of information," he said.
"We made our decision to choose a different program when we went to an outside consultant who is an expert in this field, and our expert told us that the fact we bought the NexGen interface engine will give us the ability to be the host for a community data exchange and to serve as a single patient portal to access information, regardless of where it came from."
Electronic record sharing is both the future and what is happening now at forward-thinking hospitals, said Ellen Leahy, Missoula City-County Health Department director.
"It really is the way to go," Leahy said.
Although Leahy hasn't talked to Missoula's two hospitals about the new technology, she's pleased to know the future has come to Missoula.
"Electronic management is very efficient, it is very cost efficient, it provides instantaneous access to providers and to patients, and it also has good privacy protection," Leahy said. "And any time there is cost efficiency, that is a benefit for patients."
Among the benefits: less paperwork for patients and medical providers to carry around and file.
St. Pat's will start phasing in the new program in coming months and will be fully integrated by early next year. Community Medical Center is now phasing in its NexGen system, which handles outpatient data, and will begin implementing Cerner early next year.