Staffers at the Petersburg Medical Center have been busy this fall getting up to speed on a new one point four million dollar electronic health record system that’s being installed at PMC. Administrators and staff say the upgrade will improve patient service once the installation is complete and employees get comfortable with the new system.

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Petersburg Medical Center CEO Liz Woodyard said the switch to an entirely new computer records system is a big change. “Everything we do, from when we register, to the doctor entering your diagnosis, to the MA kindof reconciling your medication, to getting a lab test ordered, lab results out, everything is different,” she said. “And the billing is all different. So it’s a really big change for us.”

The new health record software and equipment comes from the Mobile, Alabama-based company Computer Programming Systems Incorporated. A 35-person team with CPSI has been at PMC for the past two weeks working with staff on the installation. The work is expected to continue into next month.

Support staff with CPSI have been helping employees from Petersburg Medical Center install a new electronic health records system.

Woodyard said the new system will help integrate services from the hospital’s various departments. “From long-term care to clinic, our doctors will have one system to use. Instead in the past they’ve had two different systems to use and so this way everybody will be on the same system. We’ll be able to look at the records from long-term care all the way to the clinic and doctors will be able to order everything the same. So just the integration component is the key factor that we chose this particular system.” Woodyard said the CPSI system was chosen out of three proposals from health record companies.

Hospitals across the nation are installing new electronic record systems and plan on connecting to in-state, and nationwide networks, or exchanges, that will be used transferring the medical information. The federal government is encouraging use of electronic records and reports that four out of five eligible hospitals are now using electronic systems. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, provides incentive money for projects like the one in Petersburg. That funding is expected to cover about half of the $1.4 million price tag and the rest may be paid for locally. However, the borough is seeking additional state funding for the project through the upcoming capital budget process.

Jill Dormer, the medical center’s IT project manager, explained why PMC is upgrading. “You know we’re taking advantage of the money that CMS has available for every hospital in the nation to upgrade their technology. And the goal is for the hospital to be able to kind of ramp up our technology so we can improve patient safety. You know we’ll be using areas of technology for medication administration and lab resulting in ways that we haven’t been able to before. It just cuts out manual entry and makes things a lot safer for the patients.”

Dormer said the medical center can still give people paper copies of their medical records. “We will also have the ability to give a patient electronic copy of their records. Right now we can transfer those electronic records to other hospitals those by mail on a disk. But the ultimate goal for the whole state of Alaska is that we’ll go to joining the health information exchange for the state of Alaska, which everyone’s really excited about that. It’s just getting off the ground. We’re working with a coordinator from the state of Alaska to have Petersburg be a part of that. And it’s very exciting. It’s going to be a really good thing for our whole population.”

As for security of the information, the new system has encryption software to protect the medical records when they’re given out to a patient on CD.

The information system purchased by PMC is designed for smaller, rural hospitals like Petersburg. Different systems have been selected for other hospitals and that’s one of the problems popping up with the planned statewide, and eventual, nationwide exchange. CEO Woodyard acknowledged the systems at different hospitals are not always compatible. “That is something that the health information exchange is working on and it’s part of the health care reform initiative and it’ll probably be, probably 2015… Fairbanks is probably the most current and the most up to date and then probably the rest of the state will take the next two or three years. But I would imagine it’s going to be about 5-10 years before we’re fully integrated.”

The new computer system is also taking some time for staff to learn. Woodyard praised the employees for their work during the change over. “People are really doing pretty good. I think attitudes are really positive. People are working through glitches. I’ve gone through this implementation several times in my career before and I really think they’re doing a remarkable job.”

Hospital visits have been a little longer in the first weeks of the new system and Dormer asked people to be patient . “I think, especially this first week, our wait times were a little slower than normal. That should speed up as we get more comfortable with the system. I anticipate we’ll be right back up to par where we were before we switched over.”

Starting this month, patients have been asked to bring in a photo ID and insurance card with them for their first appointment. Hospital staff will scan the ID and have that information on file.
The final phase of the installation is scheduled for early next month.