Three months after all of the departments and divisions of Olympic Medical Center that use medical records went live with Epic, an electronic health records system, there’s good news to report according to Dr. Rebecca Corley, Olympic Medical Physicians chief physician officer.
The software supplies real-time updates on all patient activity in a partnership with the Providence-Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend.
“We went live on May 4 and we probably spent a year preparing for it, most intensively those last three months, with six weeks of training for employees. We’ve just now finished three months and overall, it’s been pretty good,” Corley said, admitting that it’s been a bit more difficult for those of a certain age who didn’t grow up with computers. However, the pulmonologist, who puts herself in that class, is enthusiastic about the Epic system.
“The coolest thing is the connectivity. For example, I have to work out of both Port Angeles and Sequim and one day a month at Jefferson Healthcare, which is on the same system, so it doesn’t matter where I am, when I open patients’ charts, I can see all their notes, labs and X-rays,” Corley said. “The other really neat thing is I can look at any record in the Providence or Swedish system with just a few clicks of a button.”
Dr. Bill Kintner, medical director of OMC’s primary care division, sees many advantages for patient safety in its real-time updates and multiple accessibility points. He noted that the Epic system has been installed in the offices of all the physicians employed by OMC/OMP and Jefferson Healthcare.
“In my office, a patient and I might identify an allergy to a medication and I’ll add that to their allergy list. If they were in a vehicle accident even the same day, that information would be immediately available to the ER and make a much safer situation. We all (Epic participants) know the up-to-date info and we’re able to see updated medication lists and allergies seamlessly.”
Kintner said Epic will become available to physicians in private practice who aren’t employed by the two medical centers and he believes the majority will sign on.
“They’d like the same advantages of working out of a single system because it would be convenient for them to get lab tests, etc., electronically and they’re already working with Epic in their hospitals,” Kintner said.
“Another feature I’m excited about is My Chart, which gives patients access, from their home computer or iPad, to certain aspects of their own medical charts. They also can send secure and confidential messages to and schedule appointments with their doctor, and see the results of their lab tests and X-rays. It’s pretty snazzy,” Kintner said. Patients would have to sign up with their Epic-participating physicians.
Glitches in inputing and exporting patient medical information were expected, Corley and Kintner said, and they both praised the expert support team that continues to be available via a 24-hour hotline.
“One of the game changers was that we’re entering all our own orders on the computer and we’ve had to contact support to learn the most efficient way of doing that,” Corley said.
Kintner compared the learning curve to going from early basic Adobe PhotoShop programs to PhotoShop Creative Suite 6, the tool for professional graphic designers. “The only reservations I hear are people saying they look forward to the day when they’re fully skilled in Epic. The more experienced ones say they love it.”
Like all electrical gadgets, computers are subject to the vagaries of the electrical grid, but Corley said all the entities using Epic have extensive downtime procedures in place.
“We’d revert to paper and the electronic files are backed up by multiple servers in multiple locations,” Kintner said. “All the hospital departments have paper downtime procedures they can shift to very easily.
And unlike some computer-based systems, Epic only manages information. All the diagnosing is hands-on by humans who can do just as well with paper as electronics.”
“This has been a team sport — every aspect of our organization has been involved and it’s really pulled our doctors and staff together,” Corley concluded. “I really praise the staff for making this successful.”