August 16th, 2011

Great River Health Systems has achieved the sixth of seven stages for implementing a paperless electronic medical record (EMR) system. The worldwide model was developed by HIMSS Analytics, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society.

Only 4.5 percent of 5,310 hospitals participating in the U.S. have completed Stage 6. Stage 7 encompasses a complete EMR with the ability to exchange health information between health systems. Only 1.1 percent of hospitals in the U.S. have achieved Stage 7.

“HIMSS Stage 6 validates the work we’ve done over the last 13 years. It’s a crowning achievement for us,” said Jackie Welch, manager, Information Systems. “This work directory relates to safer patient care.”

Last fall, Great River Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the nation to begin scanning bar codes on blood products to assure safety. It also introduced an electronic medicine-ordering system that automatically checks patients’ medical information for allergies and interactions with other drugs patients are taking. Before medicines are given, bar codes on drug packaging are scanned for accuracy of patient, drug, dosage, route and time, referred to as the 5 Rights.

Other steps toward EMR integration have included:

  • Documenting patient-care information
  • Implementing the use of specific medical terminology to reduce errors
  • Making digital images of X-rays and other procedures available
  • Ordering tests and procedures online
  • Providing diagnostic test results online for immediate review

“Following a specific process for implementing EMRs will help hospitals share patient information when necessary,” Welch said. “For example, if someone from Burlington becomes ill while traveling in California, EMR information at Great River Medical Center could be shared electronically with the West Coast hospital where the patient is being treated. Besides saving time, sharing records also can reduce health-care costs by eliminating duplication of tests and unnecessary delays.”

Retrieving patient information in an electronic record also is much quicker than manually sorting through paper charts or, for older records, reproducing them from microfilm. Electronic records are always available.  

Confidential patient information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Health-care workers who knowingly violate patient confidentiality may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in jail.

“Network security is a primary focus at Great River Health Systems,” Welch said. “All systems are password-protected, and specific information is encrypted. We keep track of who accesses patient information, and concerns are reported to the health system’s privacy officer.”