WAILUKU - Beginning March 1, Maui Memorial Medical Center will be transitioning from a paper-based records system to an electronic medical records system that officials say will improve patient care and safety and could even earn the hospital about $4 million in federal funds.
"This is such a massive thing for us," said Wesley Lo, chief executive officer of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Maui Region on Tuesday.
Lo said that the hospital, which is the largest in the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., has spent more than a year preparing for the transition that will involve documenting nearly 90,000 annual patient visits in the system, including hospital stays and outpatient and emergency department visits.
The preparation involved infrastructure upgrades, creation of new forms, installation of equipment, and education and training for the medical staff.
Lo did not have specific cost numbers for Maui Memorial's transition but said overall that the HHSC has a budget of $109 million for the fiscal years 2012 to 2016 to make the transition to electronic records for 12 of its facilities statewide, including Kula and Lanai Community hospitals.
East Hawaii facilities, Kona Community and Kohala hospitals, already have made the transition to electronic medical records, but with great difficulty, according to published reports. The HHSC had originally budgeted about $58 million over five years for the project, but after its experiences in East Hawaii, that figure eventually grew to more than $100 million.
Pat Saka, Maui Memorial chief administrative officer, said that the East Hawaii hospitals are using a different system than the one being installed at Maui Memorial and that those hospitals consumed only a portion of the $109 million budgeted.
Eventually, the entire HHSC system will be connected electronically. No date has been set for the conversion at Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, Saka said.
Lo admitted that Maui Memorial is not at the forefront of digital record keeping in Hawaii; The Queen's Medical Center and Hawai'i Pacific Health made the transition to electronic records several years ago. Still, "for a long time" Maui Memorial has been aiming for a changeover, he said.
What patients can expect to see next month are nurses and doctors hovering over computers and inputting patient information on computers rather than paper. Patient identification bracelets also will be scanned into a computer.
Lo asked for the public's patience because there will be a learning curve with the new technology, which may have some hospital staff taking longer than usual to input patient records. Patients seeking medical records from the hospital should not see any delays, added Saka.
He said the hospital will continue to use hard copy records and fax machines to transmit files as the hospital comes up to speed with the new digital system. Old paper records will not be inputed into the new system; the electronic system will contain information beginning March 1, Saka said.
When the system is up and running as intended, Judy Kodama, clinical nurse manager at Maui Memorial, said the electronic records system will bring peace of mind and assurance to patients and their families. For example, someone bringing an elderly parent to the hospital may not know all of the medications their parent is taking, but the computer system will, she said.
Hospital officials said that lab results taken outside the hospital also could be accessible to hospital staff if the lab providers update their systems.
The electronic system will benefit hospital nurses, who will no longer have to decipher doctors' handwritten medical notes and orders, Kodama said. In addition, the digital system will help doctors and nurses quickly identify drugs being taken and possible side effects and interactions with other drugs without having to go through paper files, she said.
The move to digital record keeping got a nudge from the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, which can reward facilities for electronic record conversion and penalize the facilities that don't, said Lo. Currently, Maui Memorial could be in line to receive $4 million over the next several years if certain electronic system standards are met.
Saka said the reward money will come from Medicare and Medicaid incentive funds that may be used for the costs to upgrade to the electronic digital system or operational costs.
The penalties would come in the form of the federal government withholding 2015 Medicare rate increases, Saka said. Hospitals would still receive a base rate but not any increases, Saka said.
To prepare for the move from paper records to one doctors and nurses can access via a computer, the hospital has brought in 80 traveling staff, from nurses to technicians, to allow the hospital's permanent employees to receiving training on the electronic system, Saka said. The temporary employees, who were hired in January, will probably remain until mid-March, he said.
There also are about 20 employees from Beacon Partners, the health care management consultant on the project who will be on Maui for 2 weeks as the transition is made.
Maui Memorial selected Siemens Soarian as the vendor for the digital health information system.
Maui Memorial has 1,500 employees and is licensed for 213 acute-care beds. It is the only hospital outside Oahu that provides a full range of cardiac services, including open heart surgery and angioplasty, a news release said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.