Coastal Women’s Healthcare among the elite
SCARBOROUGH, ME – Coastal Women's Healthcare, a seven-physician practice located in a town of nearly 20,000 residents along the Southern Maine coast, is among a group of elite meaningful users of electronic health records nationwide.
The practice was the first practice in Maine to receive incentives last year for achieving meaningful use Stage 1.
Congressional representatives, officials from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services and several healthcare IT leaders in Maine turned out at the practice May 10 to applaud the group and afford them the national recognition they said the practice deserved for improving patient care.
There are many more Maine physicians rolling out digital systems and preparing to meet the government’s touchstones for using them meaningfully. The Maine Regional Extension Center (MEREC) – one of 62 similar centers nationwide – is helping them through the process.
In the case of Coastal Women’s Healthcare, however, the REC officials did not have to offer their help. The practice’s executive director, Beverly Neugebauer asked for it.
“When can we get connected?” is what she asked when she called MEREC, said Todd Rogow, director of IT and MEREC at HealthInfoNet, Maine’s statewide health information exchange.
“While our providers’ exceptional care of their patients is clearly our priority, the added element of new, secure technology helps us improve patient care while also increasing patient convenience,” Neugebauer said. “For example, electronic medical records have helped us ensure our patients are getting the best quality care, while our online patient portal makes it easy for our patients to complete necessary medical history forms, access their lab results or request appointments.”
The practice deployed an EHR system from Atlanta-based Greenway Medical Technologies. It's had its patient portal online for a year with an estimated 15 percent of its 10,000 patients using it, and last week, it connected to the HealthInfoNet HIE.
Barbara Slager, MD, president of Coastal Women’s Healthcare, is known as the physician champion for IT at the group, and she is also an advocate of the exchange – or, as ONC chief Farzad Mostashari might say, "thinking of HIE as a verb.”
Slager explained that the HIE goes one step further, allowing her to see tests and procedures done at other facilities, which helps her better coordinate her patients’ care and reduce duplication.
“For example, if a patient has heavy periods and had a blood count done through their primary care doctor, I can pull up her latest numbers and recommend appropriate therapy," she said. "Eventually, I will be able to see her pelvic ultrasound too, including the actual images. This reduces redundant care, an important factor in current healthcare costs.”
As Slager put it, the team at Coastal Women’s Healthcare likes to think of itself as “high-tech and high-touch.”
She said the project was “daunting,” and expensive – a half million dollars – but worth it for improving care.
Rick Hoover, from the CMS regional office in Boston, gave the group kudos for being “cutting edge” and “taking charge.”
“This is exactly what CMS is trying to do with the incentive program,” he said, “exactly what Coastal Women’s is doing right now.”
“This is difficult stuff,” added Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. “This is proof that it can be done.”