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University Hospital provides patients access to EMRs

By Journal Staff


SYRACUSE  —  Electronic medical records (EMR) are leaving the confines of the hospital and heading home with patients, Upstate University Hospital said Jan. 25.

The hospital unveiled Upstate MyChart, a system that gives patients access to their EMRs on home computers, smartphones, and tablet computers. Data available to patients ranges from information on their medical histories to physicians’ notes from medical appointments.

Upstate is making the system available to its outpatients over the course of the year. Upstate MyChart was first available Jan. 25 to patients at the hospital’s Family Medicine practice, and its Department of Pediatrics is scheduled to offer the service in March.

Upstate University Hospital moved quickly to implement Upstate MyChart because of Medicare and Medicaid incentives for using EMRs, according to Teresa Wagner, chief information officer. Those incentives were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the federal stimulus bill), she says.

The incentives could be worth about $15 million across Upstate’s physician practices, Wagner estimates.

Upstate MyChart also fits in with the hospital’s work with HealtheConnections RHIO Central New York, a regional health-information organization that oversees the area’s Health Information Exchange (HIE). An HIE uses EMRs to give authorized medical providers access to patient information and medical histories in real time.

“We will be sending data [to the HIE] just as we do today from our existing systems,” Wagner says. “In some cases where certain offices had been on paper almost entirely, they’ll now be in a position to send electronic information.”

Patients will be able to use Upstate MyChart to access results from on-site lab tests, lists of their known allergies, and their medical histories. Also, they can use the system to send electronic messages directly to their physicians’ offices, schedule medical appointments, and request prescription refills.

Upstate plans to expand the service to inpatient care after all outpatients are covered at the end of 2012. The hospital has no final timeline for moving the system into inpatient care, but it will eventually cover 60 locations and 900 practitioners, including Upstate University Hospital at Community General. 

“We have clinics all over Central New York, from Oswego, Fulton, to Auburn, all the way to Utica, Rome, and certainly into the Southern Tier,” says Dr. David Smith, president of the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University.

Upstate University Hospital, which is part of SUNY Upstate Medical University, used Verona, Wis.–based Epic Systems Corp. to design the EMR system. The vendor had experience working with other academic medical centers, according to Smith.

“It’s one thing to work with a hospital, but because of the complexity and size, it was important that they’d worked with large academic medical centers like the Ohio States, Vanderbilts, Mayo Clinics — that kind of thing,” he says. 

Rolling out Upstate MyChart to outpatients carries a price tag of $20 million — a bill being footed by University Hospital and University Medical Associates of Syracuse, which is Upstate’s faculty practice plan. However, the system could help make physicians eligible for the federal Medicare and Medicaid EMR incentives from the stimulus bill.

Expanding the system to inpatient care will cost an additional $20 million, according to Smith.

The hospital has hired 30 employees to help bring the system online and 12 workers to train doctors and staff members to use it. And it will probably have to add another 30 to 40 employees to make Upstate MyChart available to inpatients.

Most of the new hires will be retained after the system is completely in place, Smith says. Upstate will need them to stay on as support staff.

“Even on the training side, you have to have ongoing training because upgrades will occur,” Smith says.

SUNY Upstate is also in the process of building courses and a certificate program in the EMR technology, according to Smith. It expects to have a plan for the courses in 12 to 18 months, he says.

The medical university would set up training classrooms that would give students the opportunity to go online with mock patient data.

“What’s unique about us is we also have the university side of this to consider,” Smith says. “Ultimately we’d [like to] be able to teach this.”

The system is free for patients to use, and EMRs for each patient will be password protected. Upstate officials described Upstate MyChart as having “bank-level” security.

Other Syracuse hospitals plan to implement EMR portals similar to Upstate MyChart but have not yet done so. St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center plans to launch a website known as “MyStJosephs” that will contain personalized content this spring. It does not yet have a timeline for opening its EMR portal.

And Crouse Hospital also wants to allow patients to view EMRs remotely. The hospital did not release a timeline but said such EMR access is part of its strategic plan.    

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