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Health system's new record process organizes an Epic task
System seeks to integrate care while managing patient data
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Nurse Rachael Buys visits patient Chris Smith Thursday, Feb, 1, 2018, at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Each patient's room has a dedicated computer loaded with Epic software, which creates a single network for all patients, so that determining health care needs can be just a few clicks away. - photo by Scott Rogers

 As a caregiver, Jere Edmondson wants to do more than take her 96-year-old mother to doctor appointments in Flowery Branch.

 Helping her schedule appointments, fill and refill prescriptions and talk to her mom’s doctor also are important tasks — and one she’s finding easier to do on MyChart, a phone application that’s also the new patient portal for the Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System.

More about Epic

Here are few other details about the Northeast Georgia Health System’s new health record system:

  • Cost to implement: $172 million
  • Number of health records: 1.3 million
  • On staff with access to Epic: More than 1,100 physicians and advanced practitioners

“I love it,” Edmondson said of the digital experience. “It’s very user-friendly, very easy to navigate and very easy to understand.”

MyChart is just one part of Epic, the hospital’s new electronic health record system, which aims to create a single network for all patients so that determining health care needs can be just a few clicks away.

“When I talk about (information technology), everybody’s eyes glaze over,” said Chris Paravate, NGHS chief information officer. “But with Epic, it’s not the technology; it’s the implications. For example, through MyChart, we’re trying to put the patient in the driver’s seat.”

“It’s important that the hospital is on one platform, as it comes to getting, entering and receiving data for patients,” said Dr. Mohak Davé, chief of emergency services for Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

In the past, departments had their own systems “and often times, they didn’t talk to one another,” he said. “(Epic) allows the information to be a lot more integrated ... and shared with ease.”

And that’s especially beneficial for patients who come into the emergency room and end up admitted, possibly going through surgery. Noteworthy is that NGMC Gainesville has a trauma care designation that allows seriously injured patients to be treated at the hospital.

“Once their medications, past medical histories and allergies have been entered, it’s in the system and it’s viewable to all the folks who use that system,” Davé said.

Epic, a Wisconsin-based company founded in 1979, has been on the NGHS radar the past few years.

“For a number of years, the health system had been making investments in IT,” Paravate said. “Three years ago, we took a pause after an upgrade of our major systems and really reflected on the tools we had ... and where did we see technology fitting in long term.”

NGHS looked closely at two vendors, including Epic.

“We did a series of demos involving 1,000 people,” Paravate said. “I think a big part of the reason we chose Epic was that we felt that that vendor was aligned with a lot of our values. The concept of the patient is (that person) is really our customer and the center of what we do.

“We felt they were a partner that would continue to challenge us to innovate.”

Epic also touts that its products are patient-centered.

The company “develops software to help people get well, help people stay well and help future generations be healthier,” according to its website.

That focus also was important for Carol Burrell, the health system’s CEO and president.

“When we made the decision to implement Epic, we also made the decision to improve the way people receive care within our health system and across the region,” she said.

“Epic creates the digital foundation that will allow us to continue to advance care coordination for decades and generations to come.”

It has come in handy for Katie Harrison, a Gainesville resident whose son Hawk suffered a massive brain hemorrhage when he was 3 weeks old. She quickly learned that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northeast Georgia Health System were both on Epic.

She normally takes Hawk, who has had multiple brain surgeries, to Children’s Healthcare for care. However, on one occasion, her son, now 5, was having a seizure that wasn’t responding to medication and Harrison took him to NGMC’s emergency room.

Medical staff “was able to open Epic ... and, within 10 seconds, verify (Hawk’s condition),” she said. “They were able to instantly give him what I was asking for, and it was just beautiful.

“That day flowed so easily. The treatment was administered so quickly,” Harrison said. “The trust was there and the information was there right at everybody’s fingertips.”

There’s also a good chance patient records will be easily accessible for those needing emergency care while traveling out of state, as Epic says that 190 million patients have a current electronic record in the system.

Closer to home, there’s HealtheConnection, a regional Health Information Exchange that aims to deliver “real-time, relevant clinical data to clinicians at the point of care, eliminating organizational or geographic boundaries,” according to the website.

Included in HealtheConnection are NGHS, The Longstreet Clinic, Habersham Medical Center and Good News Clinics.

Mimi Collins, Longstreet CEO, said the clinic’s providers, who may have to treat patients at the hospital, can directly access Epic. Other staff, such as nurses and diabetic educators, get information through HealtheConnection.

“The hospital system has worked very closely with Longstreet to make sure that as they go up on a new platform, we don’t lose what connectivity we had before, and ideally enhance that,” Collins said.

“Epic isn’t perfect,” Davé said. “There are still challenges we need to work through. But overall, it’s making health care more efficient. It’s eliminating a lot of redundancy.”

After all, technological advancements in health care aren’t just exciting for consumers — they’re expected.

“My wife asks me, ‘Why do you ride Uber?’” Paravate said. “I do it because I don’t have to talk to anybody, the car shows up and there’s no debate about how much it costs or what I should tip.”

Bottom line is it’s “less hassle,” he said.

“More and more, consumers are expecting that (convenience) ... and our early data (shows) that the consumer is not a millennial thing,” Paravate said.

“(Millennials) are healthy, at least for now. Our consumers are those adapting technology, are busy and expecting that kind of (health care) experience.” 

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