Providence Health’s local “command center” went live last month to coordinate its Clackamas County technology in an attempt to improve patient-care quality, safety and access, and to comply with new governmental regulations.

Instead of carousels of paperwork on nurses’ stations in Oregon City’s Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center, as of April 27, doctors turn on a computer to access patient electronic records. On June 8, in the middle of the night, Milwaukie Providence Hospital’s system also went live to connect in-patient care with primary care.

The so-called Epic Database coordinates emergency-room visits with patients’ regular doctor appointments, also allowing Providence to avoid fines that would have resulted from health care reform laws.

“There’s now no chance of reading a doctor’s handwriting incorrectly,” said Providence Willamette Falls nurse Joan Lundgreen. “On top of that, if you, God forbid, end up after a car crash at the state’s main trauma hospital, they’ll be able to see your records from here saying not to give you a medication you’re allergic to.”

by: PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Milwaukie Providence Hospital nurse Kenny Otley uses the health system's new software to check on a patients vital signs. Epic Database software extends heart-rate monitoring away from a patients bedside so an on-call physician can even log into the system from home to diagnose a possible heart murmur. Starting Aug. 3, those same records will be instantly accessible at Providence’s six other hospitals throughout the state, and by patients who sign up for their online “My Chart.” Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health and Oregon Health & Science University will be able to access key portions of Providence records, and Adventist Health’s 36 clinics use Epic as well.

Lundgreen worked on getting local Providence centers online with fellow registered nurse and Senior Manager of Clinical Informatics Pat Pearce, who is based at Milwaukie Providence Hospital. Tapping their decades of experience, the nurses scheduled a multidisciplinary team of more than 1,000 employees for at least two hours each of Epic system training. Even janitors learned how to use the system to indicate beds are clean for the next patients, so Russian and Spanish-language interpreters had to be called in.

During the implementation process, Pearce and Lundgreen strived to make sure that the new technology would translate into health providers more easily helping patients track their diet and future visits. They noted that keeping track of prescriptions has always been an especially tough task for geriatric patients throughout previous advances in technology.

“We can now immediately recognize what we need to do, whereas before they would say they’re on ‘some blue pill for blood pressure,’ and we’d have to play a guessing game,” Pearce said.

Lundgreen clarified that good prescription history helps to make sure patients get the correct dose and drug-taking method.

“Patients should feel not that care wasn’t safe before, but now we have more built-in safety factors,” she said.

Quality of care

Technology has rapidly changed in hospitals as a way to address patient-care concerns. During the 1980s, for example, Pearce and Lundgreen saw stickers replace antiquated punch cards for automated charges.

Health care providers nationwide now must meet “meaningful use” standards in using electronic health records to be eligible for financial incentives through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. HITECH requires demonstration of proficiency in electronically capturing coded health information, using electronic information to track clinical conditions, and reporting clinical quality measures.

Providence hospital officials see benefits to patient care as more important than financial savings, which won’t make up for implementation costs. Providence expects fewer mistakes as a result of health providers using the system, plus time savings for patients and doctors not having to fill out so many forms.

“It should provide a higher quality of care,” said Providence spokeswoman Renée King.

King noted that hospital staff also trained to use the new system without spending the duration of a patient’s visit looking at a computer.

“We’ve been working with all our caregivers to figure out how to integrate that tool with personal care,” she said.

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