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Hospitals Join Forces to Share Electronic Medical Records

February 15, 2010
Denver Business Journal - February 8, 2010 denver/stories/2010/02/08/story9.html Friday, February 5, 2010 University hospital begins $67M IT remakeDenver Business Journal - by Bob Mook Kathleen Lavine | Business Journal Steve Hess, chief information officer at the University of Colorado Hospital, says the current $67 million information technology project will streamline the hospital’s computer systems and give patients direct access to their own medical records. View Larger The University of Colorado Hospital has started work on a $67 million information technology project that will create more than 165 high-paying jobs. The hospital already has hired 75 people for the three-year project, which will employ 167 at its peak in 2011. The average salary for employees involved in the implementation project is $36 an hour, or $74,000 a year, said Erika Matich, a hospital spokeswoman. Steve Hess, chief information officer of the hospital, said the project will streamline the hospital’s computer systems so that all of the institution’s departments and physicians operate from the same platform. “We have a lot of diverse systems that don’t talk to each other as well as they should,” he said. “Once this is implemented, they will all be on the same system, so the information will flow more naturally.” Another advantage of the system is that it will give patients immediate and direct access to their own medical records. University Hospital has contracted Epic Systems Corp. of Verona, Wis., to coordinate the implementation. Epic also worked with The Children’s Hospital and Exempla Healthcare in upgrading their computer systems. It also built Kaiser Permanente’s IT system nationwide. Hess said because Exempla, Children’s and Kaiser use the same software, it will be easier for University Hospital to look up the complete electronic record of any patient who comes from one of the other health care providers. Hess said Epic — a privately held company that competes with global tech giants such as Siemens — is “choosy about who they take on as clients.” “They won’t take on anyone who will just sign a check,” he said. “They look for those who are ready to give the resources to do it in the right way.” Though University Hospital hopes to receive federal stimulus dollars to help pay for the project, Hess classified federal grants as a “secondary goal.” Under the stimulus plan, the federal government is offering up to $36 billion in incentives for health care providers to improve and upgrade electronic medical records, as part of an effort to create jobs and improve U.S. patient care. “It’s only the icing on the cake as opposed to the primary driver,” Hess said of the stimulus money. In the meantime, Hess said, the hospital will fund the new system with cash from operations. Hess said the point of the project is to transform University Hospital into a paperless system while creating more efficiencies with its billing and administrative processes, improving patient safety, and helping doctors and other health care professionals make better-informed decisions because of improved electronic health records. A new system is needed because as University Hospital grows larger in the relatively new Anschutz Medical Campus, the potential for disconnect between departments also grows wider, Hess said. While the project will go live on a limited basis in about a year, Hess said it will take time to phase in the new system throughout the hospital. He said the implementation changes the hospital’s workflow, and it takes about nine months to train staff how to use the new system. But in the end, Hess said, the effort will be worth the time and money because it will help the hospital run more efficiently and improve patient care. “There probably won’t be a big reduction in jobs, but a lot of jobs will be changing,” he said. “A lot of things we’re doing on paper will go away.” With many local hospitals, clinics and practices already working on upgrading their IT, Hess said the Denver area is a good environment for health IT professionals. “We’re fortunate to have some really good people implementing this system,” he said. “Several hospitals have advanced systems, so many of our recruits have pertinent experience to draw from.” One of the recruits, Donna Campbell-Burks, said she’s not concerned about job security in the growing field of health care IT — despite the short-term nature of the project at University Hospital. “There are so many changes going on, I don’t think this is going to be just a three-year project,” she said. Campbell-Burks, who relocated to Colorado with her husband last year, has 19 years’ experience in health care and is considering finishing her master’s degree in health care technology to position herself better in the growing field. Working on this project gives her a chance to “learn a process from beginning to end.” “This could open up endless opportunities,” Campbell-Burks said. “The opportunities are endless as long as you’re open to change.” All contents of this site © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.