When Mercy Hospital Joplin took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado in May, the electronic health records (EHR) of the 183 patients in the hospital were intact and immediately available, although paper records were scattered to the wind. Now four months later, Mercy is providing additional access to Joplin with MyMercy, a free online personal health record giving patients the ability to track health history, see lab results, schedule appointments, contact a doctor and renew prescriptions via a personal computer or smart phone.
Just last week, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced rules that will not go into effect until October 2012 but will make it easier for patients to see, use and add information to their personal electronic health records. For Mercy – among only 6 percent of hospitals nationwide with a comprehensive electronic health record – the technology is already in place and patients are reaping the benefits.
Paul Johnson, 78, of Joplin, knows all too well how technology translates to medical care. Johnson had been hospitalized with pneumonia for two days when Mercy’s Joplin hospital was hit by the tornado. As patients were transferred, Johnson expressed his desire to go to Mercy’s sister hospital in Springfield, Mo., knowing his electronic records would be easily accessible.
“I knew they would want to know my medications, dosages and what tests had been done, and I knew I couldn’t remember all of it,” he said. “The doctors in Springfield were able to pull up my records and ask me questions. It worked out beautifully.”
In 2005, long before there were any government incentives or rules in place, Mercy invested $450 million in an EHR sophisticated enough to access and share medical records among multiple Mercy facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Serving more than 3 million people each year, connectivity between 29 hospitals and more than 200 outpatient facilities is critical.
“It’s exciting to give our patients new ways to be part of their own health care,” said Taylor Bear, M.D., Mercy Hospital Joplin neurologist. “It’s important for people to feel like they have access to their doctor. And for us, MyMercy will make communication easier with our patients. As patients access test results, we can address needs in real time.”
Almost a year later, more than 150,000 people across the four states Mercy serves have signed up for MyMercy. And for many, the service has made life much simpler and health care more accessible.
For patients like Sue Morrison, it means being able to manage your health around the clock. In her mid 50s, Morrison is dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic back pain. Health care is no longer a passing thought for this Edmond, Okla., resident, but rather a lifestyle. In recent years she has anxiously – and at times desperately – searched for ways to manage her medical needs.
“I think MyMercy is an amazing service,” Morrison said. “If I need to check a lab result or schedule an appointment, all I have to do is get online any time of day. One night I requested a renewal on one of my prescriptions. By the time I went in for my doctor’s appointment the next morning, the prescription was already waiting for me. MyMercy puts my mind at ease.”
Besides ease, U.S. officials and health care leaders hope electronic health records – in particular, the use of personal health records – will improve care and save dollars. Portals allow patients to enter their own data, such as their weight, what they've eaten and what symptoms they have for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease. Ultimately, the technology helps patients work with doctors to better manage their conditions.
Managing those chronic illnesses better can also save money, since 5 percent of Medicare patients have multiple chronic conditions that account for 85 percent of Medicare costs.