Transforming Patient Care: UW Health Installs Electronic Health Records

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Siren blaring, an ambulance approaches the Emergency Department (ED) at UW Hospital and Clinics. As technicians whisk the patient indoors and share critical details, Peter Falk, MD, grabs a mobile computer and enters information into an electronic health record (EHR).
Installed in the ED in 2008 in three phases over several months, the highly secure EHR digitally captures the full patient care experience. It's part of a system being rolled out across UW Health that seamlessly integrates registration; scheduling; medication management; bed management; clinical documentation; orders; health information management; admission, discharge and transfer procedures; billing and, eventually, patient and referrer portals.
Nearly four years into the massive five-year transition to a fully electronic system, UW Health has now enabled its inpatient areas and is continuing a phased roll out in its outpatient clinics. Surgical services and hospital billing are also on the timeline for 2009 and 2010.
Implementing the Epic-based system is easier said than done, according to Dina Geier, business operations manager of the ED. "The Epic product is like a thousandpiece puzzle. We had to work with Epic and with each other to decide how to put the pieces together to meet UW Health's needs."
Staff time represents most of the roughly $75 million budget. More than 120 employees have configured and installed Epic applications. Staff from all phases of clinical operations have designed and tested the components of the EHR. And support teams have provided at-the-elbow support during a succession of "go lives" in 2008.
Even with users still on a learning curve and many enhancements on a wish list, the benefits are evident: The EHR includes features — such as automated medication interaction checks and best practice alerts — that enhance safety and quality. Patient handoffs are safer because information is entered consistently and is readily accessible to all caregivers. Documentation is more complete because each patient's full story is in one place.
Ultimately, it's patients who benefit. Falk describes this difference: "To place orders I used to have to first track down the paper chart and then find the nurse and explain what I needed. Now it's click, click, and in one to two minutes, I'm done. That time savings allows me to proceed quicker with the appropriate patient care."