St. Joseph’s Mercy Joins Unique Company

September 27, 2010

A multi-year and multi-million dollar project that will have an impact on more than 1 million Arkansans comes to fruition this weekend.

St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center in Hot Springs, will “Go Live” with its fully-integrated electronic health record on Sunday, Sept. 26. At the same time, St. Joseph’s Mercy clinics in the region, as well as St. Edward Mercy Medical Center in Fort Smith, AR, join the Sisters of Mercy Health System facilities already using the technology in places like Rogers, AR, St. Louis, MO, Springfield, Mo, and Oklahoma City, OK.

This level of connectivity for patients and health care providers is seen in only 2.6 percent of hospitals nationwide. In fact, Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a global leader in health care technology, recently designated Mercy a stage six of a seven-stage process, joining the ranks of health care leaders such as Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic for their ability to connect the Mercy facilities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

Mercy Medical Center in Rogers, St. Joseph’s Mercy in Hot Springs and St. Edward Mercy in Fort Smith will be the only three stage six designees in the state of Arkansas. Those with stage six must have structured templates for physician documentation, full CDSS (clinical decision support system in both variance and compliance) and full R-PACS (picture, archive and communications system).

 “Mercy is the only one with this type of technology in Arkansas,” said St. Joseph’s Mercy President Tim Johnsen. “By having this technology, we will improve patient care.”

This was an expensive investment in terms of financial and human resources. The Sisters of Mercy Health System has invested $450 million in a process that began more than four years ago. More than 23,000 employees throughout Mercy have been trained on the electronic health record, including 2,300 at St. Joseph’s Mercy.

“It’s a significant investment and there’s no doubt a truly electronic record gives you a safer environment for patient care,” said Christi Whatley, vice president at St. Joseph’s Mercy.

Mercy was able to customize the electronic health record to meet the needs of the physicians and nurses.

The system is already successfully operating at:

  • Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City
  • Mercy Health Center in Fort Scott
  • Mercy Medical Center in Rogers
  • Mercy Memorial Health Center in Ardmore
  • St. John’s Mercy Hospital in Washington
  • St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis
  • And St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield

This means that patients will be able to go to any Mercy facility, including Hot Springs, Fort Smith and Rogers, and their provider will be able to see their current medical record. Dr. Douglas Ross, M.D., of St. Joseph’s Mercy’s Emergency Department, said patients, nurses and physicians will see immediate benefits from the electronic health record.

“You’re going to see a significant difference,” Ross said. “When you come to our Mercy facilities, whatever environment you take part in, that health record is going to follow you wherever you go.”

A patient who was previously seen at a Mercy clinic would have their record updated. If that patient had to go to the Emergency Department at a later time, the physician would have all of the information from the previous visit immediately available.

“Before, we would have to track down the physician, track down the paper record. In the Emergency Department, time can be of the essence,” Ross said. “I can immediately pull up whatever the physician did in that visit I can see what labs and tests were run, what treatments were tried.”

The effects on physicians, nurses and patients will be immediate:

  • One patient, one record –There will be a single, complete and continuously updated electronic health record for each patient with medical history, physician information, hospital and Emergency Department visits, medications, allergies, immunization records, and lab and test results.
  • Enhanced safety –There will be no more jotting something down. Everything will be entered into the computer, which will have automatic alerts built in. This prevents negative drug interactions or allergic reactions.
  • The right hands at the right time –There will no longer be illegible handwriting. These complete records will be immediately available to the health care provider.

More than 2,300 computers were installed at St. Joseph’s Mercy with physicians having the ability to connect to the electronic health record remotely.

“There are computers in every patient room. There are computers in every exam room in all 27 of our clinics,” Johnsen said.

There is no doubt that EHR’s are the future of health care. They’re even a major part of the Health Care Reform Act.  Beginning in 2015, hospitals and physician offices will be subject to financial penalties under Medicare if they don’t have electronic health records in place. The Sisters of Mercy Health System, of which St. Edward Mercy, St. Joseph’s Mercy and Mercy of Northwest Arkansas are a part, is already on the cutting edge.

“There have been significant advancements in medical records, in technology over the past several years, robotic instrumentation and things along those lines. But for the most part, physicians have been practicing in the paper world for the last 30-plus years,” Ross said. “It’s a very significant undertaking to have physicians change their day-to-day activities. Now they will not be searching for charts, trying to read handwriting. Everything they need will be on the computer.”

There are also safeguards built into the electronic health record to assist in preventing mistakes.

“If you inadvertently hit the wrong dose of a drug, there’s a hard stop in the computer system. That’s been developed by Mercy physicians and nurses,” Johnsen said.

Information is stored at the recently-completed Mercy Data Center in Washington, MO. The $60 million facility is built to withstand an F2 tornado and has safeguards in place to prevent power outages. The center’s network could transfer the entire contents of the Library of Congress in less than 6.5 seconds.

There are also privacy safeguards in place. Records are only available to co-workers who need access to them and passwords are changed frequently.

“For example, I don’t have access,” Johnsen said. “Users are assigned passwords that change frequently. People will only have access to what they need to. There are very strict protocols on who gets access and how they get access. It’s truly safer than a paper chart.”

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