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Mercy unveils Epic program

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The future of health care information technology has become a reality in Kansas.

On Sunday, an entirely new computer system called Epic became operational at Mercy Health Center, 401 Woodland Hills Blvd. The system went live in the Mercy Physician Group portion of the health center on Monday. Epic Systems Corporation is a health care software company based in Madison, Wis.

In late 2006, Mercy Health Center, along with other facilities in the Sisters of Mercy Health System, began preparing for the implementation of the system-wide Epic computer system.

A Mercy Health Center employee works at her computer on Monday to learn the center's new computer system called Epic, which went live on Sunday. Mercy physicians and staff have worked the last few days to learn the new "one patient, one record" electronic record-keeping system. Dozens of Epic Systems Corporation trainers, user and other staff have been on site at the health center since Sunday to assist Mercy staff with the transition to the new computer system. Jason Silvers/Tribune Photo
Dozens of Epic Systems Corporation trainers, "super users," and other staff have been on site at the health center the last few days to assist Mercy staff with the extensive transition. Over the last two days, Mercy and Epic staff have entered more than 3,500 doctor appointments into the new system, officials said.

"It is a very exciting atmosphere," Mercy Health Center Director of Marketing and Development Carla Farmer said. "This is a huge initiative for Mercy and will directly impact the patient experience."

One Mercy staff member who has been learning the new system is William James Schafer, the director of pastoral care at the health center. Schafer said Monday, as he worked with numerous others in the health center's bustling command center where the system change is taking place, that he has been learning the new system and helping other staff become more acquainted with the system as well.

"This is history in the making right here," Schafer said. "In the future, that's what you'll hear, 'one patient, one record.'"

Mercy Health Systems physicians P.K. Gugnani (seated) and Peter Churgin, a doctor with Mercy Health Systems in St. Louis, Mo., navigate through Mercy's new Epic computer system on Monday. The new system is expected to benefit both physicians and patients by creating a quicker, more convenient method of communicating and sharing information. Jason Silvers/Tribune Photo
Mercy physicians and staff have worked tirelessly the last few days to learn the new computer system, which should prove beneficial to both patients and medical staff, Mercy Health Center family practice physician P.K. Gugnani said.

"Eventually, it will go faster," Gugnani said. "There's a learning curve. It will be a benefit because doctors won't have to wait to communicate with other doctors -- there will be instantaneous communication. It's all sent in real-time."

Physicians will also be able to use the new system to enter orders for medicine, and generate reports on recalled medications for patient safety reasons. The system will also send patients periodic safety alerts.

According to a Mercy Health Center statement, the new information system will set Mercy apart from the majority of health care facilities across the country by creating a "one patient, one record" system that enhances patient convenience and responsiveness.

The system allows for the continuous electronic update of a patient's medical record. It replaces an older technology at Mercy called Meditech that only allowed for a partial electronic record.

The Epic system will also expand Mercy's electronic record capability that is currently available in many areas of the hospital and physician offices, allowing similar electronic charting in the Emergency Department and Surgery, as well as rural Mercy clinics located in Pleasanton and Arma, the Mercy statement said.

Nationwide, physician offices have been slower to move forward with electronic medical record technology for a variety of reasons, the statement said.

"With the rest of the world living and working on e-mail and the Web, an electronic health record (EHR) might seem like an obvious step," according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. "But it is, in fact, a revolution. American physicians have been notoriously slow to adopt digital record-keeping -- only 14 percent of U.S. medical practices keep electronic records."

Despite this trend, Mercy Physician Group has used an electronic medical record for five years, the Mercy statement said.

"It is our belief that today's society is a technology driven, Internet-connected world with more and more people using personal computers to communicate, shop, do their banking, and make travel plans," Mercy Health System of Kansas President and CEO John Woodrich said. "Now, we have expanded our technology to make information about your health and the care you receive far more complete and available to you 24/7."

The change to a new computer system will benefit patients because when they are seen at a rural Mercy clinic or emergency location, health care providers will be able to work from the same consolidated, continuously updated electronic record, creating real-time access to information.

"When we talk about the 'Mercy difference,' this is our system-wide focus on patient safety, personal service and quality," Mercy Health System of Kansas Chief Operating Officer Reta Baker said. "Taking this step forward to expand our technology will further enhance patient safety, service and quality by providing automatic alerts to help prevent negative drug interactions or allergic reactions. Furthermore, electronic charts are complete, legible and always at hand."

Nearly everything that was once written, communicated or filed away using paper, pen and file folders will now be completely electronic. When demographic and medical history have been provided just once on the new system, a patient's electronic health record is immediately available to authorized caregivers at the current Mercy facility being visited.

The patient's record is also instantly updated with test results. As part of the Epic system conversion, Mercy computers will be used at each bedside allowing the caregiver to enter patient documentation while observing the patient simultaneously.

Mercy Health Center Vice President of Clinical Systems Kathryn McClellan said Epic Corporation staff will be on-site for another month to help with project support. It will take Mercy staff about 9-12 months to become fully proficient using the system, McClellan said.

For more information on the Epic computer system, call Farmer at (620) 223-7026.

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