People who are patients or may be visiting someone in Mercy McCune-Brooks Hospital for the next few days may notice a number of people in bright red shirts scurrying about with the nurses, physicians and others normally at the hospital.
Those people are technicians from Epic, a medical software company based in Wisconsin, and co-workers from other Mercy hospitals on hand to help the Carthage hospital transition to a new computerized medical records system that hospital officials hope will change how patients and health care providers interact.
This medical records system is the same one being installed in all other hospitals in the Mercy system and will let a Mercy patient to go to any Mercy facility and allow health workers to have immediate access to a wealth of information about that patient’s medical history, current condition, recent visits and any prescriptions the patient might be taking.
It will allow the patients to keep track of that information as well through a secured internet website, according to Scott Hinkle, senior Clinical Solutions Analyst at Mercy’s St. Louis headquarters, who has spent several weeks in Carthage helping local workers with the transition.
“When they check out, they’ll be able to access through the web, upcoming appointments, requesting refills on prescriptions, sending messages to their doctor, or anything else,” Hinkle said. “It’s a really great tool that they will be able to access from home to have their hands on their own care. That ability is really a good thing, it helps them have the ability to ask questions that they might not want to call about, but they can send a quick email.”
Pam Barlet, spokeswoman for Mercy McCune-Brooks, said workers have been planning and preparing for this changeover for three months. She said the new system went live on Saturday and more than 30 technicians from Epic and co-workers from other Mercy hospitals, all wearing bright red shirts, are in Carthage ready to answer any questions and help the transition go smoothly.
“That’s how we distinguish ourselves as people that know the system,” Hinkle said “Patients will see some people milling around, working side by side with the co-workers here at the hospital to make sure if there are any questions that they are easily answered, that the patients don’t have to wait any extra time. That’s the goal, to have a really smooth transition and make it easy for the patient to not really notice anything going on.”
Barlet said physicians and nurses at Mercy McCune-Brooks will notice a big change, although they already have some experience with electronic medical records systems.
The hospital adopted an electronic records system when it moved from the Centennial Avenue building to its new location on Russell Smith Way.
Page 2 of 2 - Barlet said that system worked well, but it had drawbacks.
She said under the old system, physicians could see some medical records in one window of the program, then had to go to another window to see things like lab reports, radiology reports or prescriptions.
“In Epic, when the patient comes up, all their information comes up,” Barlet said. “It’s handy. One of our physicians said while it might take longer to put all that information in, you only put it in once, so initially it does take longer, and after that, you have everything accessible at your fingertips.”
Dave Miles, a field technician from Mercy Joplin and Carthage resident who has been helping Mercy McCune-Brooks make the changeover for the past three months, said he took part in converting the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center’s records to the Epic system prior to that hospital becoming Mercy Joplin Hospital.
That changeover was complete on May 1, 2011, three weeks prior to the May 22 tornado that shattered the hospital.
“It made it easier for us to get records for our patients because they were stored electronically off site,” Miles said. “We were able to get all their records back. I’m not a physician so I can’t tell you how tough it would have been to get the information back without the electronic system, but I’m sure it would have been pretty difficult because paperwork was thrown everywhere.”
Miles and Hinkle said Mercy has converted 30 other hospitals to this system, so it has a lot of experience in making smooth transitions.
“It was stressful in Joplin, but there was nothing that really held us back,” Miles said. “We made sure everything was going to work, did a lot of testing beforehand. That’s what we’re doing now here is testing. It was actually a pretty laid back transition. I was in charge of the OR section and everything worked out fine. It was a smooth transition.”