HealthEast board approves new EHR

Five-year, $135 million plan for Epic platform
By Erin McCann
12:00 AM

Board members at the St. Paul, Minn.-based HealthEast Care System have unanimously approved a five-year $135 million budget to build a new electronic health record system. 

After nearly three months of discussion over vendors, cost of ownership analyses and financial plans, the nonprofit health system -- composed of 925 beds across four hospitals and some 14 clinics -- will say 'sayonara' to its seven different EHR systems, which include platforms from Allscripts, eClinicalWorks and McKesson. The announcement to move forward with the plans was made by the board in December. 

Officials say the various systems make for a disjointed and fractured delivery of health information across the hospitals. "There were a number of drivers," said Brian Patty, MD, vice president and chief medical information officer at HealthEast, regarding the decision. "The primary driver was a desire for our system to move from multiple, disparate EHRs ... onto one single platform." 

"We've got to do better than having multiple electronic records," said HealthEast president and CEO Kathryn Correia to the Pioneer Press.

After considering six different vendors -- including Allscripts, McKesson, Siemens, Cerner, Epic and MEDITECH -- HealthEast has selected an Epic Systems platform to replace all disparate systems.

The decision to implement a single EHR system was expedited when McKesson, HealthEast's current inpatient vendor, announced its decision to move all of its Horizon customers to a new platform. The new platform, according to Patty, didn't meet the group's needs. 

When asked what his experience has been with seven different systems across four hospitals, Patty laughs. It certainly hasn't been a walk in the park, he said. "It's been very difficult caring for a patient across the continuum of care." When there's a different EHR for inpatient, clinics, homecare, cancer care and ER, sharing data across those systems proves a challenge. 

"Even when it's theoretically possible, the vendors oftentimes don't work well together to be able for us to share data from one system to another," Patty added. 

Patty and his IT staff know they have an arduous road ahead before the EHR system goes live May 2014 in the hospitals and November 2014 in the clinics. Referring to the task of implementing a system-wide EHR, Joanne Sunquist, the new CIO at HealthEast told Patty: "It's like running a marathon at a sprinter's pace."

The end goal, however, is expected to make the process all worthwhile. 

"What we'll be able to do is if a patient is seen one day in a clinic and seen the next day in the emergency department, all of the data that was entered during that clinical visit is immediately available to that emergency physician when they're caring for that patient," said Patty. "It's really about having a much more complete set of data and an up-to-date set of data on the patient wherever they're seen in our system."

Another welcomed byproduct of implementing the new platform will be HealthEast's $3.5 million savings in maintenance costs. After going live with the EHR, the health system will see maintenance costs decrease from $6 million to an estimated $2.5 million annually. A significant portion of these savings will come from eliminating some 54 different applications from previous EHR platforms. 

Patty also expects to see some considerable payouts come time Stage 2 meaningful use incentives are doled out. HealthEast will use the Epic system to attest to Stage 2 and receive incentive payments. 

The health system has already attested to Stage 1 using its existing systems, and Patty said, "We do plan on continuing to meet Stage 1 requirements on our current vendors and then switch over to Epic and meet Stage 2 requirements." 

As of October 2012, some 5,016 providers in Minnesota have attested and received meaningful use incentive payments. Epic users account for an estimated 58 percent of those attestations.  

According to the Pioneer Press, HealthEast will join the more than 25 percent of Minnesota hospitals and 33 percent of state health clinics already using an Epic EHR. 

HealthEast anticipates hiring 40 additional staff members for the EHR implementation.