‘Major Investment’ At WCA Makes Navigating Record System A Breeze

WCA Hospital has implemented one of the largest and most advanced hospitalwide electronic health record systems.

The system was created this year to enhance access to patient information and achieve greater care coordination throughout WCA Hospital, providing the highest quality, most accessible and affordable care to patients.

“This major investment at WCA Hospital enhances our clinical outcomes by allowing real-time access and updates to records as our patients navigate through the continuum of care,” said Betsy Wright, WCA Hospital president and CEO. “With the acquisition of our new electronic health record system, patients will have one electronic health record that can be quickly, efficiently and securely accessed at the touch of a button. One patient record means one consolidated view to medications, allergies, patient problems, past medical history, immunizations, diagnostic images and lab reports-all are included in one secure and consolidated, up-to-date patient record.”

That single, consolidated view of the record has been one of the biggest advantages since the switch.

“A paper record can only be in one place at one time,” Dianne French, WCA Hospital director of health information management. “The access to the information by authorized people, anyone who needs to access it for patient care and is authorized to do that, is going to be so much faster.”

“In the paper world, if a provider needed a record, they’d have to call my department, then we’d have to find that record and carry it to wherever to make copies and fax it,” French continued. “With this, though, everything is at their fingertips so they can take care of the patient quickly.”

Completion of patient records has also improved in both speed and accuracy since the adoption of the electronic health record. Previously, it took much longer for the documentation and all of the pieces to get completed. Now, though, multiple people can access the same record in the system at the same time. According to French, the system is also being rolled out to physician offices so that they’ll be able to access the electronic health record from their locations, as well.

“Physicians historically have worked longer hours than just 9-to-5 and sometimes they’re called at home for different things,” French said. “Before, they would have to try to remember patient details if they didn’t have the record in front of them. Now, if they get a call in the middle of the night about one of their patients, they can get into the system and have all of the information at their fingertips. It lets them give better answers more quickly.”

Along with the ease of accessibility, the new system also makes it easier for WCA to follow the regulations set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which is federal legislation that began in the 1990s. Within the federal law, there are requirement to keep patient information confidential and secure.

“We’ve always done that as much as we could, and New York state law is even more strict than federal law,” French said. “One part of the regulations, though, is that we have to keep logs. We’re mandated by law to have audit trails in every one of our systems so that we can see who accesses records, and that’s a lot better now than it was in the paper world. In the electronic world, the audit trail shows every single time that a user opens up a record and if they make any changes to those records. We do audits on the audit trails to ensure that unauthorized people aren’t looking at something that they shouldn’t be. We also have policies that say that employees and medical staff are only authorized to look at records of patients that they need to see in order to do their job.”

In addition to the logs that must be kept to comply with HIPAA, the hospital is also required to show “meaningful use” of the system in order to qualify for federal stimulus funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“With the successful implementation of our new electronic health record system, WCA Hospital can now devote full attention to meeting meaningful use requirements and qualifying for federal stimulus funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Wright said. “WCA Hospital will be ready to attest to meaningful use in September 2013. One of the major components of the electronic health record incentive programs as dictated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is achieving meaningful use. Meaningful use can be defined as the use of certified electronic health record technology to achieve specific health and efficiency goals. Within the guidelines of the electronic health record incentive programs, both hospitals and eligible professionals must demonstrate that their designated certified system has achieved meaningful use results.”

According to French, two years of patient information were loaded into the system, but most of the older records that the hospital has on paper aren’t going to be input. There are some instances where WCA will identify some documents that are necessary, but that is being done on a case-by-case basis. After 10 years, WCA destroys the records, unless the patient is a minor – then the records are kept until the patient is 21 years old.

“The 10-year window is what was recommended to us by our insurance carrier, and we actually keep the records longer than New York state mandates,” French said. “If records are requested from us by the government or insurances, we have to produce them, so from our point of view, if we don’t have to keep records for more than ten years, it makes it easier on us to destroy them after that.”

The electronic health record also provides a fully integrated system, which WCA says enhances every part of the patient care process, meaning healthier patients, improved collaboration and enhanced communication among all care providers and their patients. It also improves patient engagement, service and satisfaction. By having improved access to information from a patient’s record through a fully secured system that protects patient privacy, WCA Hospital has seen data collection and clinical documentation become more streamlined.

“Technology moves and changes so quickly, and we took a giant leap forward to do a hospital-wide electronic health record,” French said.

“The successful implementation of the electronic health record at WCA is another compelling example of responsible decision-making that improves the overall care of our patients,” Wright continued. “WCA Hospital is making a long-term, multi-million dollar investment in this system, and we are confident that it will enable us to improve the overall health of the communities we are so privileged to serve.”