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Bozeman Deaconess, Area Medical Community Build Interconnected Electronic Health Records System

November 2, 2007

"There is no single more important factor in improving patient safety in healthcare than the use of information technology."
—Institute of Medicine study on patient safety


With patient safety in mind, Bozeman Deaconess and local physicians embarked on a project for an interconnected, community wide electronic health record (EHR) system in March 2006. An EHR is in essence a patient's complete medical chart in digital format. A new system—that goes online in the first of many Gallatin Valley clinics this month—will coordinate the storage and retrieval of individual records through a network of sources, typically physician offices and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital departments. That means all participating physician practices will soon be linked to the same patient health records. Soon emergency physicians at Bozeman Deaconess will have immediate electronic access to vital records.

What makes the electronic health record system in Gallatin County unique and better integrated is simple…collaboration. Joseph Sofianek, MD, a family practice physician with Medical Associates, is the physician champion for the community EHR project. “Our medical community decided to collaborate early on in the EHR planning process. Instead of 17 separate interface systems, we had hoped to narrow selection to three,” Sofianek said. “But physicians voted unanimously to go with a single enterprise-wide system and we’ve become one of the first medical communities in the country to do so.”

Bozeman Deaconess Health Services has donated a significant portion of capital costs for the EHR infrastructure and also will manage an independent information technology department to support the Gallatin Valley EHR project, dubbed “eMergence.”

An EHR is a continuous and electronic record of all care delivered; included are patient demographics, progress notes, chronic problems, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports.
EHR systems can reduce medical errors, increase physician efficiency, and reduce costs, as well as promote standardization of care. Even though EHR systems have existed for more than 30 years, less than 10 percent of hospitals nationwide had a fully integrated system in 2006. “Already, participation in eMergence totals 17 Gallatin Valley practices and more than 90 providers,” says John Nordwick, CEO and President, Bozeman Deaconess Health Services. Participating practices must meet the following criteria: they must accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, take referrals from Community Health Partners, offer follow-up visits from the Emergency Department and keep accurate and up-to-date problem, medication and allergy lists in the system for 24/7 Emergency Department access. Bozeman Deaconess Health Group practices including Big Sky Women’s Specialists, Bridger Internal Medicine, Internal Medicine Associates, Neurology, Robert A. Hathaway Internal Medicine, and Urological Associates will participate in eMergence beginning early 2008. Other practices slated to launch in the next two years are Bozeman Gastroenterology Clinic; Bridger Ear, Nose and Throat; Bridger Orthopedic & Sports Medicine; Cardiology Consultants of Bozeman; Community Health Partners; Family Practice Associates; Intermountain Neurology; Medical Associates; Medical Eye Specialists and Surgical Associates. Many other practices are currently considering joining eMergence.
Electronic patient charts will be shared by all practices using eMergence. Secure data interfaces—will communicate between the electronic chart and the central system housed at Bozeman Deaconess, enabling key information retrieval at the point of care, regardless of setting (physician office or within the hospital). Ways patients will experience both better customer service and improved, safer care include:
-Automatic drug interaction checks will reduce adverse drug events.
-Emergency room staff will have 24/7 access to critical information such as current medications, chronic conditions, and allergies.
-Streamlined referral processes between primary care and specialty providers will make relevant patient information immediately available when needed to make informed care decisions.
-Information will be maintained and shared so patients won’t have to provide it repeatedly.
-Patient charts are updated as care is provided, making it current and readily available to any provider caring for the patient. Clinicians won’t have to search for a paper chart and can provide more timely responses to phone call and medication refill requests.
-Demographic information will be automatically updated by the hospital and the provider practices so that patients no longer need to re-register at different community healthcare locations.
Exchange of patient information and data is secure and password protected. Only staff members who require access to medical records for the purpose of providing care are authorized to view records. The EHR technology allows for tracking of usage to ensure that confidentially regulations are strictly enforced.

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