Clinician using technology while providing care

Future of health care IT is already here in an Epic way

Was it yesterday or several years ago when you last had to carry your doctor’s paper prescriptions to the pharmacy?

If you can’t remember when that was, then your physician and pharmacy likely are using electronic health records, or EHRs, that can be shared instantaneously. EHRs are working in sync across health systems, doctor offices, and other health care settings to make it easier and efficient to share patients’ health information.

“We had six different electronic health record systems when I got here, and now they’re all consolidated under Epic. All information is in one place, and that’s a huge win,” said Harold J. Moore, MS, MBA, chief information officer at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

Epic is a system that manages EHRs, and it’s used by health-care organizations in 49 states, including the major health systems in South Carolina. This means that patients at Spartanburg Regional could visit an out-of-state doctor or hospital that could access their SRHS patient records, if that provider uses Epic’s Care Everywhere program.

“In the old health care world, patients might have an X-ray done multiple times at different facilities,” Moore said. “Now, we don’t need to redo that lab work or X-ray. This helps to keep costs down, and the turnaround time on getting results is quicker.”

When someone from California is visiting the Upstate and has an accident, Spartanburg Regional’s emergency centers can check the patient’s records and know instantly which medications and allergies the patient has.

“In terms of connectivity, it’s a huge advantage, and it works across the country,” Moore said. “We’ve shared around one million patient records with other facilities in roughly the first year of having Epic.”

Patients no longer need to carry paper copies of medical records with them when visiting a new doctor, said Steve Hester, director of enterprise applications at Spartanburg Regional.

“This is a unified medical record that can be transported electronically, even while you’re traveling or on vacation,” Hester said.

This connectivity will eventually extend to medical devices in patients’ homes. The devices are not yet connected to the electronic medical record system, but the IT team is working on it.

The hospital’s in-room technology, including television sets and tablets are being connected to the EHR system so anyone on the care delivery team can verify patients’ records while in the room. Also, patients can see information about the team working with them that day. Pictures of the staff and their titles are displayed on patients’ TV screens.

“It might say, ‘Your nurse is Kim and nursing assistant is Jane, and the physician is Dr. Smith,” or ‘Today you’ll have an exam in radiology and blood tests drawn.’” Hester continued.

Cloud technology brings future to hospital

When people think about information technology, they often picture a room full of computer servers where data are stored. With the health system’s use of cloud technology, there is no huge data center located on site, Hester said.

“Cloud-based technology means the computer that uses software is at another data center elsewhere.”

There are several important advantages to cloud technology. It reduces costs, lowers maintenance requirements, and it helps with disaster recovery. As people saw with Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, health systems and others can be at risk of losing access to information due to flooding or extended outages. By having all health information in the cloud, health systems can have access to patient records even if their own site suffers a natural disaster.

With a cloud-based model, if there are any glitches, patient data can be accessed in a back-up system until production issues are resolved.

“We were one of the first to go live with cloud-based Epic,” Moore said. “If you have a data center, and the equipment is not doing well and the key person is on vacation when it crashes, bringing the system back up can be time-consuming.”