December 9, 2012

Maine Medical installs high-tech records system

BY KELLEY BOUCHARD

PORTLAND -- Maine Medical Center launched a totally integrated electronic health records system this week that promises to benefit both patients and employees.

The roll-out of the "one patient, one record" system at Maine's largest hospital is part of a seven-year, $150 million technology upgrade that is the largest-ever capital investment in health care in Maine.

By the end of 2013, the system will be adopted by seven other MaineHealth hospitals and their affiliated clinics, laboratories and physician practices in the state's largest health care organization.

"It's a big leap forward for us," said Dr. Barry Blumenfeld, MaineHealth's senior vice president and chief information officer. "It's one of the best things we can do to improve the quality and safety of the care we provide."

For the 1.5 million people in Maine Medical's patient index, the secure, Internet-accessible system means all information about an individual's doctor visits, hospital stays, prescriptions, laboratory work, x-rays, outpatient therapies, billing and scheduling will be kept in one place.

One of those patients is Phil Horwitch, who has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia for 12 years. In the past, Horwitch has carried x-ray results from one doctor's office to another.

"I won't have to do that anymore," said Horwitch, 61, a Freeport man who was at Maine Medical on Friday. "The doctor will have it right there, so that's a definite advantage."

MaineHealth will receive a $50 million federal subsidy to adopt the new system, Blumenfeld said. The subsidy is funded under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, which was enacted as part of President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal government began promoting electronic health records in 2004 as a way to improve health care and paperwork, medical errors and costs.

The Obama administration added financial incentives to empower patients to participate in their health care, expand access to affordable health care and one day allow for a secure national network to share patient records.

Other Maine health care providers have made or are making the transition to electronic health records, including Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Martin's Point Health Care, which is based in Portland.

In the MaineHealth network, Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockland, St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor and Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast will adopt the new system in July, followed by Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and Goodall Hospital in Sanford in December 2013.

Electronic health records are getting mixed results.

In July, the National Center for Health Statistics released the results of a 2011 survey of nearly 3,200 doctors that found 55 percent were using an electronic health records system. In that group, 75 percent said their system played a "meaningful" role in their practice, 85 percent said they were either "somewhat" or "very" satisfied with it, and 75 percent said it improved patient care.

In August, Medscape, an online site for doctors, reported the results of a 2012 survey of more than 21,000 physicians in which 38 percent said they were "unhappy" with their electronic medical records system.

Blumenfeld said "very few" physicians in the MaineHealth system have objected to adopting the new system, in part because MaineHealth is covering 85 percent of their costs in the venture.

Blumenfeld said MaineHealth bought "the Cadillac" of electronic medical records systems, which has been adopted at several other leading national health care organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and Geisinger Health System. The MaineHealth system combines Epic technology for clinical records and the Lawson system for financial records.

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