Unified System Provides Single Platform
By Ben Boulden
Within just a few months, UAMS patients will be able to make appointments with their doctors by actually seeing physician schedules and picking open slots. They also will be able to log on and look at their own medical records.
In another year, patients with Internet connections and webcams will be able to participate in “e-visits” with a UAMS physician.
Making all this possible and more is a new electronic health records system called UConnect that UAMS is in the process of implementing.
UAMS has had an electronic health record system for several years, but it hasn’t had the unified record system UConnect is providing, said David Miller, UAMS chief information officer.
“That is huge for the patient side of this,” Miller said. “It combines all the medical, billing, pharmaceutical and other information associated with an individual in one electronic record.”
The new system is not one simply of convenience. Besides collecting and cataloguing patients’ health records, it’s expected to improve patient care and provide better outcomes with managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or congestive heart failure.
Coupled with the new health care model called the patient-centered medical home, the system allows primary care providers access to a patient’s medical records all in one place. This permits the provider to increase monitoring of chronic conditions with the aim to keep the patient healthier and prevent expensive emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Patient safety will also be improved by reducing the possibility of medication errors. With UConnect, a bar code system will match a medication to the patient. Without that match, the medication will not be administered.
“The big issue is patients often have medical records in different computer systems. With UConnect, when you show up here in a clinic I know you’ve been in the hospital, and I know they’ve recorded your drug allergies there. We have a single platform from which to work,” Miller said.
A single platform will make it even easier to track a patient as that patient moves from primary care physician to specialist. That tracking will make it easier to avoid things such as redundant lab tests.
UConnect uses software and technology from a company known as Epic Systems. Components of the system will go live for UAMS clinics in August. By March 2014, all clinics and the hospital will be live on all components. The total project cost is about $100 million.
Patients interacting with the new system will use an Epic application called MyChart. Epic comes with a variety of tools to prompt both patients and providers about tests and ways to managing chronic diseases. A reporting function can help guide providers in medical interventions and show them how well they are working.
The transition to UConnect requires a few hardware upgrades, but the biggest challenge to implementation is training.
“Between now and March 2014, we have to train about 5,000 people,” Miller said. “There are a lot of logistics to doing that.”
Training will consist of an online component, then classroom instruction and finally, hands-on experience in the UAMS Simulation Center. Use of the center allows the class time to be reduced from four hours to two.