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Electronic Health Record System Integrates N. Iowa Hospital Network

By Staff | Sep 23, 2008

MASON CITY, IA – Mercy Health Network – North Iowa is leading the nation’s rural hospitals by implementing new technology that transforms the way health care is delivered.

On Saurday, Sept. 6, four North Iowa hospitals, Ellsworth Municipal Hospital (EMH) in Iowa Falls, Hancock County Memorial Hospital (HCMH) in Britt, Mercy Medical Center (MMC-NH) in New Hampton, and Palo Alto County Health System (PACHS) in Emmetsburg, activated an electronic health record system integrating a network of seven rural hospitals and one rural referral center. This integrated system is the first of its kind in the U.S. rural health care setting, with less than three percent of hospitals nationwide having such a system available.

“EHR10,” as the new system is known throughout Mercy Health Network – North Iowa, is making the care delivered to rural hospital inpatients more efficient and safe by connecting multiple computer systems throughout this Network of rural hospitals. Earlier this summer, the first cohort of hospitals consisting of Iowa hospitals, Kossuth Regional Health Center (KRHC) in Algona, Franklin General Hospital (FGH) in Hampton, and Mitchell County Regional Health Center (MCRHC) in Osage, activated the electronic health record system and have been successfully providing patient care in this new environment. “We definitely learned a few things from the first cohort implementation,” said Vance Jackson, CEO at HCMH. “We had time to tweak some processes resulting in an almost uneventful go-live for the second cohorts.”

Mercy Medical Center – North Iowa has played a leading role in the implementation of EHR10, as this facility went live with the same computer system three years earlier in July 2005. “Mercy – North Iowa has provided us with best practices and lessons they have learned from using the system for the past three years,” said John O’Brien, CEO at EMH and Project Leader. “Mercy – North Iowa’s experience has played a huge role in the success of the EHR10 project.”

The pioneering implementation was facilitated by two grants from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The first grant, awarded to Hancock County Memorial Hospital, supported planning between Mercy-North Iowa, its rural hospital affiliates and county public/community heath agencies to ensure compatibility with the extensive electronic health record system used by Mercy North-Iowa and other hospitals across the country operated by its parent company, Trinity Health, headquartered in Novi, Michigan.

The second grant supported a partnership between Mercy-North Iowa, the seven associated rural facilities, Trinity Health and the University of Iowa College of Public Health to implement a comprehensive integrated electronic health record complete with computerized physician order entry and clinical decision support tools and to generate lessons for future EHR implementations in rural settings.

Now patients seeking care at these seven rural hospitals and at Mercy – North Iowa will have their medical information stored in one electronic system, so everything from allergies, vital statistics, illness history, treatment records and nurse’s notes is kept in one place and is readily accessible to doctors and nurses throughout Mercy Health Network – North Iowa. The EHR system puts the latest evidence-based care information at clinicians’ fingertips when they need it: at the time care is delivered.

“EHR10 will help the hospitals that are a part of Mercy Health Network – North Iowa continue to improve patient care and safety, and leverage recruitment efforts as health care providers seek out employment with health care systems that are committed to investing in technology to improve patient outcomes,” said Doug Morse, Senior Vice President of Network and Clinic Management at Mercy – North Iowa.

“The goal of EHR10 is to improve quality of care for patients,” said Catherine Butler, M.D.,with HCMH. “When quality of care is increased because medications are delivered sooner and test results are accessible sooner, our patients can get better more quickly.”

“Tackling the transition to an electronic health record across seven critical access hospitals has been a huge undertaking,” said Bruce Roesler, CEO at MMC-NH. “It has taken a lot of teamwork, education, and support from staff across Mercy Health Network – North Iowa.”

While many of the functions of EHR10 are “behind the scenes,” patients will notice more computers in the clinical areas, bedside registration, faster processing of medication orders and reduced wait times.

“The steps we are taking today will help prepare us for the future of healthcare. This is truly a dramatic leap forward – a transformation – in the improvement of patient safety, quality of care and financial performance as we move toward an integrated healthcare network, “ said Tom Lee, CEO at PACHS.

More About EHR10

EHR10 allows Mercy Health Network – North Iowa hospitals:

• A safer environment for patients as physician orders will not be subject to handwriting misinterpretation.

• Better quality of care because medication orders will be processed more quickly via the computer.

• A warning of adverse drug event (ADE) alerts when there is a possibility of drug-to-drug, drug-to-allergy or drug-to-test results contraindication. This gives the physician the immediate opportunity to change the order or override the alert while still at the computer with full knowledge of the patient’s latest results, allergies, and vitals, at his/her fingertips.

• Better quality of care thanks to the clinical decision support tools. These knowledge-based tools link evidence to best practice guidelines. This allows the clinician to use all the relevant information including best practice guidelines, drug databases, and practice evidence-based medicine at the point of care.

• Savings in health care. Cost will be contained because fewer duplicate tests will be ordered. Since results will go directly to the electronic chart, there is little chance the result will be separated from the chart.

To ensure patients’ health information is secure, the systems of EHR10 support the federal government’s HIPAA privacy and security standards by using access controls, passwords and other tools to protect confidential patient information. Any staff member or employee who accesses a patient’s PHI (protected health information) will leave an electronic “footprint–“ establishing a record of who has viewed the patient’s information. This will allow the hospital the opportunity to determine if PHI is being appropriately accessed.