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Todd Lutes, manager of Ozarks Community Hospital's health information system, says OCH expects to receive between $4.5 and $6 million dollars in federal stimulus funds for making the switch to electronic medical records.
Todd Lutes, manager of Ozarks Community Hospital's health information system, says OCH expects to receive between $4.5 and $6 million dollars in federal stimulus funds for making the switch to electronic medical records.

OCH launches e-record conversion

Posted online
A financial boost from the federal government is helping Ozarks Community Hospital convert to an electronic medical records system, and whiteboards assigning nurses to patients and clipboards on patients’ beds will soon be a thing of the past.

The OCH system, which has hospitals in Springfield and Gravette, Ark., and 10 Ozarks clinics, began converting to an electronic medical records system Aug. 2.

The first phase implemented    included putting medicine orders online, said Todd Lutes, manager of OCH’s health information system. Doctors and nurses also are making electronic notes on inpatient, surgery and emergency records. Implementation of Phase II in September will result in all doctors’ entries throughout the entire OCH system being entered into the electronic system.

OCH began planning EMR implementation in 2008 and started building its system six months ago, Lutes said. The bulk of the implementation should be finished by 2011, and the system plans to be paperless by 2015. That’s the deadline the federal government has set for hospitals and doctors to implement EMR systems or risk penalties and loss of federal Medicare funds.

Both CoxHealth and St. John’s also expect to make full conversions to EMR systems. CoxHealth spokeswoman Yvette Mitchell said Cox began implementing EMR solutions in 1996, and all but three of its clinics have been converted. Those clinics are expected to be converted by next summer, Mitchell said. CoxHealth officials said their initial EMR investment was $1 million, but they did not have a total cost available at press time. And St. John’s Health System
spokeswoman Cora Scott said that St. John’s Springfield hospital converted to EMR in January 2009, and all St. John’s area clinics have been converted.

Lutes said several factors, including the amount of the penalty and how – or whether – different hospitals’ and clinics’ systems will be synchronized to share information, must still be determined by the government.

Carrie Richardson, director of communications at OCH, said the system chose Mobile, Ala.-based Computer Programs and Systems Inc. as its EMR software provider. The company already provided OCH’s financial software and had a solid track record with small to mid-size hospitals, Richardson said. CPSI sent trainers to OCH facilities, providing each employee about 25 hours of training each week for three weeks.

“I’ve really been surprised at how well it has all gone so far and how few obstacles we’ve had,” Lutes said.

Some providers are resisting making the switch to electronic records, according to an Aug. 9 Wall Street Journal article, which said 80 percent of physicians and 90 percent of hospitals are still working with paper files. A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine cited cost and physician resistance as the main reasons so many have yet to convert.

The government is using $27 billion in stimulus money to provide financial incentives to encourage providers nationwide to make the switch to EMR systems. Lutes said OCH expects to receive between $4.5 million and $6 million based on a formula that takes into consideration the percentage of Medicare patients served.

At OCH, which posted 2009 net patient revenues of $49 million, about 40 percent of patients are on Medicare, Lutes said, reiterating that the hospital system already was exploring EMR options before the incentive funding was announced.

“The deadline and stimulus money just speeds things up a bit,” he said.

The stimulus funds won’t be paid until providers complete implementation and can prove they’re meeting the criteria, so the earliest OCH will be eligible for reimbursement is summer
2011. Lutes said the conversion already has cost OCH more than $2 million.

“As we go forward, that number will only go up,” he said. OCH officials expect EMR costs to increase by several million, but they didn’t disclose a specific overall amount. Richardson said that number will be difficult to peg until the government defines the rules for later stages of EMR use.

Lutes said OCH began talking about EMR conversion with its providers early.

“It’s not hard to show the benefits of the system,” Lutes said. “All departments can pull up the same medical record and see the same information. It ties back to patient care.”

The Wall Street Journal article noted that some insurers, including United Health Group, Humana and Aetna, are getting behind the push for EMR conversion, launching electronic records platforms and, in some cases, financial incentives. The article noted that Aetna is teaming up with IBM to launch an online system that will pool patient records and lab and claims data and help providers measure their care against national quality standards.
Health information technology will be a key driver for quality and cost of care in the future, Aetna spokeswoman Sherry Sanderford told SBJ.

“Electronic medical records increase efficiency, give doctors and nurses real-time information, reduce redundancy in the system and also allow doctors and hospitals to file claims electronically,” she added.[[In-content Ad]]

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