Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific’s (PPSP) Concord Health Center delivers reproductive health services, primary and preventive care to approximately 9,200 unduplicated patients each year. To help PPSP Concord make a transition to electronic health records (EHRs) that will help it better serve its patients, the Community Health Fund has provided a one-year health initiative grant of $407,195.
The grant will enable PPSP to implement electronic tools that will help the organization stay on track with the federal government’s call for Medicare and Medicaid providers to adopt EHRs by 2014 by supporting various aspects of the complex process, including:
- Purchasing, installing and testing the necessary IT equipment
- Making necessary building improvements
- Converting paper charts to EHR templates
- Staff training
For PPSP, as for all health care providers, implementation of EHRs is an imperative. Multiple regulations demand the change; more importantly, EHRs have the potential to dramatically improve care and patient satisfaction, while helping to tighten the link between patients, providers and health information. Moreover, by enabling the gathering of health data on large patient populations – and, ultimately, interoperability among health care settings – EHRs enhance the ability of health care organizations to understand what works and what doesn’t and to better manage the health of entire communities.
But making the transition to EHRs is neither easy nor inexpensive, especially for community clinics, which often scrape by on scant resources. Beyond the expense of the systems and implementations, clinics must train staff and prepare for an initial loss in productivity as people become used to an entirely new way of performing their jobs.
In addition to its care delivery role, PPSP Concord is the primary administrative headquarters for Planned Parenthood in a region that includes 21 health centers across 17 counties. Since early 2011, all 21 PPSP health centers have begun the transition to EHRs and must carefully balance the economics with the need to have systems robust and reliable enough to reach their potential.
Part of striking that balance is purchasing the right system and upgrading the infrastructure, which is part of what the CHF grant underwrites. For example, with an eye toward both the present and the future, PPSP has purchased an EHR system that will not just be consistent throughout the 21 Planned Parenthood centers, but also will theoretically work effectively in the future with other Contra Costa health care providers. The system is compliant with federal patient privacy requirements (HIPAA) and works with the clinic’s billing and patient management systems.
Implementation required a set of new computer stations in patient exam rooms. The layout and design of each carefully considered the clinic’s workflow, especially the interaction between patient and clinician. The CHF grant underwrites the necessary remodeling costs.
Then there’s the issue of what clinicians actually see when they look at the screen versus what they’re used to seeing on paper. The CHF grant supports the conversion of paper records to EHR templates, customized to the way clinicians work at PPSP Contra Costa. As for the actual input of existing patient data, paper charts are being abstracted into the EHR and then reviewed and approved by the clinician.
Finally, there’s the training of staff, a substantial undertaking. It begins with clear communication that EHRs are a necessary response to a regulatory demand that itself is a response to the recognition that the entire health care system can more effectively meet patients’ needs. Once on board with the concept, the staff will undergo didactic and hands-on training in interdisciplinary teams, both on and off-site. As the EHRs go live, specially trained “super users” from PPSP will be on site, along with teams from the vendor.
Nevertheless, the initial weeks still will impact productivity, with clinicians and staff getting used to the system, needing to input more information, and having to go off-site at times for additional training. The CHF grant covers all of this training.
Ultimately, however, Chief Executive Officer Heather Saunders Estes believes productivity will increase and the systems will be a boon for patient care. She is looking ahead to a time when PPSP can:
- Easily, but securely share the records of shared patients with other private, nonprofit community and county clinics, as well as with local hospitals.
- Analyze data from throughout all of the 21 health centers in PPSP, so they can better understand how to deliver more effective care.
- Create a patient portal, where patients can view their own records and have access to important health information as well as alerts and reminders that help them better manage their own health.
“The need for community clinics to implement EHRs is critical and immediate, but it comes at a time when the economy is still struggling,” says Estes. “That’s why I’m so appreciative of the Community Health Fund’s farsightedness; it is critical to moving healthcare forward.”