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By Dan Rudy 

Medical center unrolling e-records system


Administrative and nursing staff from the Wrangell Medical Center (WMC)

presented an update of a new patient portal program in progress to the hospital’s board of directors at Wednesday’s monthly meeting.

Cathy Gross, Denise McPherson and Katrina Ottesen delivered a Powerpoint

presentation outlining the hospital’s progress setting up an electronic health records (EHR) system.

“Our team meets every week and we can actually have a report we run through and look at,” said Gross.

Wrangell’s is one of three Alaskan medical centers now unrolling such a program. The portal accesses a summary of medical information but is not a replacement for patients’ charts.

Those signed up for the program get usernames and passwords allowing them to look up their medical information online from home, except for radiology results.

“It gives them more control over their healthcare decisions,” Gross explained.

“We have evolved our process through trial and error this month,” Ottesen told the board, including hammering out how best to assign roles between staff members.

One of the program’s first-phase requirements is that hospital staff inform at least half of all patients about the portal. At the moment, staff are focused on patients requiring inpatient and observation care. Once the hospital enters the second phase of the program in October, a further benchmark will be set for enrollment that will broaden its scope.

“So far people have been really receptive,” Ottesen said.

Under their current timetable, WMC will be able to benefit from the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. These provide financial incentives for the “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology.

To receive an EHR incentive payment, providers have to demonstrate their use of the technology by meeting certain measurement thresholds. WMC would lose out on the incentive funds if it does not meet the criteria.

“That’s why this is so important,” Gross explained. As part of the program, the medical center can also be audited at any time.

The incentive programs include three stages of increasing benchmarks for participation. After the first three-month period demonstrating meaningful use and the full year in their second year of meaningful use, providers will then have to meet higher, second-phase requirements for two full years.

“That’s going to be a little more nail-biting,” said Ottesen.

Gross said they are currently approaching the second part of the first phase, an attestation period for Wrangell’s patient portal that started July 1 and ends Sept. 30. Following that, the hospital will have to continue showing progress with the program over the federal fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

Already, the program seems likely to reduce the usage of paper and demand for front desk services. Eventually it will also help expedite medical transfers by allowing caregivers ready access to EHR.

“It will help tie the whole system together,” Gross explained.

Although the enrollment focus is now on inpatient and observation care, those

interested in signing up can stop by the medical records department at WMC. There

are no fees to pay, just a bit of time to fill out some forms and sign a privacy agreement.

Staff will be available to lend support for those initially

needing help navigating the system.


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