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Learning what it takes to undergo an EHR implementation

Like the path to true love, the course to true electronic health records (EHR) never does run smooth: This is the realization that dawns on providers some time after they begin the implementation process. At least, this could be a conclusion one reaches after hearing several tales from hospitals and doctors explaining the implementation projects they’ve undertaken.

The American College of Healthcare Executives is gathering in Chicago this week for its 2010 Congress on Healthcare Leadership. On the first day attendees listened to presentations from hospitals and doctors, who explained what they’re going through to implement EHR technology and comply with the meaningful use criteria in the proposed rule coming soon from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The keys to a good information system are strong communication among all involved, transferable technology, data integration and improved decision-making support, according to officials from the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island. “Information needs to be patient-centric in order for us to accomplish those goals,” said Nancy Barrett, vice president of information services for the five-hospital system.

Lifespan is implementing a strategic plan to move its hospitals from their status as Stage 6 facilities on HIMSS Analytics’ Electronic Medical Records Adoption Model to Stage 7 status. To Lifespan, there is little difference between the upper levels on the adoption model and the requirements of the meaningful use proposed rule. The funding incentives under the stimulus law only accelerate the work, they don’t change it, Barrett said.

Baptist Healthcare System attributes its success with EHRs to partnerships and to timely access to data. In 1998 the Louisville, Ky.-based system gave up its best-of-breed approach to implementing IT systems. Instead, it signed a $100 million contract with one vendor to provide applications for all hospital functions, and standardized systems across all its facilities.

Teams consisting of vendor employees, in-house IT staff, clinicians and hospital personnel, and health system executives are involved in making decisions about the system’s IT plan, according to Jackie Lucas, vice president and chief information officer of Baptist Healthcare. “They’ve become very comfortable in these partnerships.”

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