Implementing an EMR System

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 2004-05-26 Print this article Print

The Epic system had previously been used in doctors offices, but, explains Smith, "you cant just pick up the code and move it from the office to the hospital." His team modified features, such as screen flows, to suit doctors making rounds who might see 10 patients in a very short time. The IS team adjusted the interface and screen flows for different specialties, like sending several orders from one page or using smart templates that would be geared for, say, the routine questions that a doctor making rounds in an obstetrics ward might ask. Before going live in each hospital, ENH spent about a week testing the system at each site. These checks relied on walk-through tests of the system, in which workers would go through routines such as admitting patients, and ordering and receiving lab tests.
The initial intention, says Smith, was to roll out the system all at once at the first hospital, under the assumption that a doctor should never have to look at two places for information. But the documentation part of the system was ready before the pharmacy part, so ENH rolled out those functions first and found that it seemed to help less tech-savvy doctors adjust to the system. So ENH used that sequence when the two other hospitals went live too. The three hospitals, Glenbrook, Evanston and Highland Park, went live in 2003 in March, July and December, respectively.
Once the system was ready, staff training and participation were mandatory. To get an ID and password for the system, staff members had to pass a proficiency test. "The professional staff passed a rule that said, if you dont have an ID, you cant treat patients," recalls Smith. The biggest surprise in designing the system, Smith says, was having to make sure there was a way to include every procedure a patient might need. These include services provided by "lots of small, ancillary departments that might only meet as a clinic once a week, or only see three or four patients a month." Some of these were overlooked in the initial workflow analysis, requiring the IS staff to scurry somewhat to build them in. Reaping the Benefits Smith says one of the most dramatic improvements was the reduction in the time it took to get pills to patients. Under the new system, the time it took to get the first antibiotic to a patient dropped from 160 minutes to 80 minutes. Before the system, physicians requesting pills might send requests by messengers or pneumatic tubes. Pharmacy staff would get the request and enter it into a system, and overwork might delay requests. Under the current system, Smith says, requests are submitted automatically. The turnaround time for test results has also dropped from as much as three weeks for a mammogram to one day. Another difference is the ease in locating patients charts. In a paper-based system, he says, a chart could be in dozens of places. For example, a chart could be with a patient in an X-ray facility, with a nurse in a patients room, or with another doctor in a reading room. Now, Smith says, "the charts are available anywhere, anytime." But perhaps the greatest benefit will come from being able to manage what Smith calls "patterns of care." He described an incident in which the recommended dose of a drug was reduced, and the system was quickly modified so that the prescription template in the system suggested the new dose, along with an alert to the doctors that the system had been changed to reflect the new recommendation. "That kind of thing is real hard to do in a paper world," Smith says, noting that the usual procedure would be to put up fliers and make announcements at monthly meetings. Plus, there are cost savings for physician dictation, better co-pay collection, rising reimbursements and falling insurance claim denials. ENH estimates the system will save $10 million a year. Next Page: Looking Back and Forward

Monya Baker is co-editor of's Health Care Center. She has written for publications including the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Acumen Journal of Sciences and the American Medical Writers Association, among others, and has worked as a consultant with biotechnology companies. A former high school science teacher, Baker holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Carleton College and a master's of education from Harvard.

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