Software will allow patients to access records online

Viewing your medical records could be as easy as pulling up your bank statement online once Medford's major hospitals and clinics implement a new software program.

Providence Medford Medical Center, Rogue Valley Medical Center, La Clinica and Community Health Center are collaborating on a major revamp of how patient medical records are sent and stored.

The move is aimed at cutting costs for the centers by eliminating paperwork duplication and saving staff time.

"It's will essentially create a centralized patient record that will make it easier for hospitals to share patient information," said Providence spokeswoman Vicki Chamberlain. "This is something that many communities already have. It just hasn't come here yet."

Providence and its 11 clinics across Jackson County hope to have Epic Health Records software in place by February 2013.

The medical records database will allow hospitals on the Epic system to ship patient information quickly.

The current system is bulky and carries considerable costs in time and paperwork, according to Asante Health Systems Chief Information Officer Mark Hetz, who works out of RVMC's campus.

"We have to either fax the information or send it in a secure email, which can take time," Hetz said.

"The emailed records come in document format, which means we have to re-key any new information."

The Epic system will automatically update patient medical records after new visits or procedures.

The choice to move toward an electronic medical records was prompted by 2009's federal Affordable Health Care Act, which requires hospitals to become more efficient at storing and shipping medical records to other hospitals and patients.

Hetz said patients will notice that they no longer have to answer repeated questions once they enter a hospital. All hospitals on the Epic system will have immediate access to medical records.

Hospitals not on Epic can immediately view medical records through a patient's personal, password-protected Web page containing his or her medical information.

"The patient can simply open their secured page for a doctor right there at the hospital," Hetz said. "You can also store your record on a thumb drive and provide it to a hospital that doesn't use Epic. It would be faster and could be more up-to-date than the way we do it now."

Epic carries a $25-million price tag, about half of which is covered by funds dedicated to hospitals across the country by the federal stimulus legislation of 2009.

Local hospitals expect the system to pay for itself in the coming years.

"It will help with costs in the long run," Hetz said. "It will reduce the time spent moving paperwork around and will replace a number of systems already in place that had operating costs of their own."

Jason Kuhl, a doctor at Providence, said the system will give him access to patients' latest emergency room visit or x-ray results.

"It will be a great advancement for my practice, and more importantly for my patients," he said.

According to Chamberlain, more than 150,000 doctors nationwide use Epic and by the end of 2011, more than 35 percent of doctors in the U.S. will adopt the system.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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