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Smaller, rural hospitals continue to fight barriers

Magee General Hospital implements electronic health records

While Magee General Hospital has been treating patients for more than 70 years, it achieved one of its more significant milestones just this year when it implemented an electronic health records (EHR) system.

The benefits of EHRs to healthcare providers and patients are many. Fewer adverse drug events, medical errors and redundant tests and procedures; faster diagnoses and treatment; timely preventative care and services; and, better communication between patients and physicians are a few of the pluses. The healthcare provider cuts costs by operating more efficiently and effectively, and patients see improved care.

That is great, but Magee General’s staff will be the first to say that implementing EHRs is not easy. It takes resources, a team approach and a lot of homework. Unfortunately, hospitals, particularly smaller, rural providers, find these barriers seemingly insurmountable.

However, the news is getting better. Studies are underway and a big push is on to help hospitals navigate the process of implementing EHRs. In fact, there may be rewards in the future for those healthcare providers that successfully launch EHRs.

Worth the effort

Last April, the practice management side of Magee General went electronic, and the Simpson County hospital’s EHR system went live in July. It was not easy, but the hospital is thrilled with the results.

“I am happy with where we are at. It took a lot of hard work, though,” said Kirby Craft, director of information technology at Magee General.

Indeed, it was a long process. According to Magee General’s practice manager Nan Mangum, the hospital started down the EHR road approximately two years ago. There were a myriad of questions that had to be answered. For instance, Magee General operates a number of clinics that utilize different tax codes, Mangum said. The system had to be interoperable, a challenge all hospitals face when looking at EHRs.

There are a myriad of systems and vendors available, which sounds like a plus. However, Craft said that can also be an obstacle.

“The first thing you have to identify is what you want the system to do,” he said. “There are so many options, and all are customizable, that it convolutes the picture. We first had to determine what we had to have and went from there. It’s is important to remember that you’re looking for a solution.”

After determining exactly what was needed, Magee General started sifting through its choices. It looked at systems both virtually via the Internet as well as firsthand through site visits. It contacted and interviewed vendors, weeding through the “suspects” to come up with prospects.

In the mean time, Magee General was working equally hard back at the hospital to make sure everyone was informed and included. When asked the keys to the hospital’s successful launch of EHRs, Mangum said physician buy-in was at or near the top of the list.

She added that this is a huge success story, and she hopes Magee General’s efforts will serve as a model to its peers.

Headaches and heartburn

Craft said when Magee General was conducting site visits, the staff heard many success stories. However, there were also plenty of stories of headaches and heartburn. Magee General may very well serve as a model as many healthcare providers find successfully implementing EHRs a losing proposition.

As it turns out, Magee General did a number of things right. In addition to physician buy-in, Mangum listed reserving adequate funding and interoperability as keys to success.

According to the Healthcare Financial Management Association, those efforts are crucial to success. It conducted a survey into the top barriers in successful EHR implementation. Fifty-nine percent of respondents listed lack of available funding as a substantial obstacle, 51% said physician usage was a concern and half said interoperability issues were their biggest barrier.

Interestingly, only 28% of those surveyed cited insufficient financial return as a significant barrier. The association interpreted this as a faith in the promise of EHRs and a determination to implement them that transcends traditional financial thresholds.

However, hospitals in the future may indeed see a return. The Department of Health and Human Services has directed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop a new demonstration initiative using Medicare waiver authority to reward the delivery of care via EHRs. The core incentive payment will be based on performance on quality measures, with an enhanced bonus based on the degree of health information technology functionality used to manage care

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com..

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