Electronic medical records make local appearance 

Oct 20

Messy handwriting in patient records is a thing of the past at Methodist Hospitals.

In late August, the hospital system launched EPIC, an electronic medical records system implemented to improve efficiency and patient safety. The first few months on the system have run smoothly thanks to extensive training, said Loren Chandler, vice president and chief financial officer of Methodist Hospitals.

"It's something that's demanded now," Chandler said of the roughly $35 million investment. "It's more a safety and quality initiative, but there will be some cost savings over time as a byproduct."

On a recent morning, a demonstration of the technology showed each nurse with an individual mobile work station, with each patient's information at their fingertips. Previously stored in folders filled with multiple pages of notes, the info is now stored in the program.

"As far as legibility, it's amazing," said Lois Martin, a nurse with Methodist for the past 17 years and a principal trainer for the EPIC system. "I can see everything I need to do. It gives reminders. Instead of fishing through the folder, it's constantly updated."

Along with providing information to physicians and nurses, EPIC keeps track of what medications a patient is supposed to receive. Nurses scan the medication and a bar-coded wrist band worn by the patient. The system checks that the medication is correct, that it's the proper doses and given at the right time. It also checks for allergies and possible complications.

"It's made things a lot easier," Dr. Hakam Safadi, a pulmonologist, said as he used the program to look at an x-ray. "Everything you need is at your fingertips."

Chandler attributes the relatively smooth transition to the extensive training employees went through. He said some employees were picked to be part of a two-month training with EPIC educators. Then those educators provided 20 hours of training to every nurse and 4 hours of education to every physician. Once the implementation began, "superusers" were stationed on each floor to help with any problems that arose.

The implementation will carry into next year when another program for physicians will be installed. Also, an online connection called MyChart is being consider for patients to access their own medical information, contact their doctors and schedule appointments, said Kari Hutchison, a nurse and project director for EPIC. She anticipates the hospital system will be almost completely paperless by April.

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