Maine Hospitals Launch Electronic Health Records

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Medical Center in Portland debuted a new electronic health records system in early December. The “one patient, one record” system is part of a seven-year, $150 million technology upgrade said to be the state’s largest-ever capital investment in health care.

The system will also be implemented by seven additional hospitals, as well as their affiliated clinics, laboratories and physician practices, under the MaineHealth umbrella by the end of 2013.

It will replace “dozens of old systems that are poorly connected and difficult to use,” said Dr. Barry Blumenfeld, MaineHealth’s senior vice president and chief information officer, and allow for a patient to “go from his primary care doctor, to a specialist, to the hospital, to the OR and back to his regular doctor after discharge, and all of the information about him will be there at each stage of the process without the need to input it again and again.”

MaineHealth will receive a $50 million federal subsidy, funded by the Health Information Technology for Economic Clinical Health Act of 2009, by adopting the new system. The bill was passed by the Obama administration to incentivize medical practices to implement and use electronic medical records to get patients to participate in their health care, expand access to affordable health care and work towards a secure national network for sharing patient records. The incentives were available beginning in 2011 and will decrease each year until 2015, when physicians who elect not to use an EMR will be penalized with a 1 percent Medicare fee reduction.

The Maine upgrade is part of the administration’s effort to improve health care quality by “better coordination patient care, reducing medical errors, cutting out duplicate tests and lowering the overall cost of health care,” according to a press release from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

In July 2012, the NCHS revealed a 2011 survey of about 3,200 doctors nationwide that said 55 percent used an electronic health records system. Of that 55 percent, 85 percent said they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied, while 75 percent said it improved patient care. The NCHS also reported that 72 percent of office-based physicians used electronic medical records or electronic health record systems, increased from 48 percent in 2009.

The main concern with the new system is that it’s a bigger, more complex and more expensive system to install; however, the maintenance costs are lower in the long run than an interfaced mix of systems that require constant upgrades, Blumenfeld said. Plus, for those that are concerned that the new system will financially or operationally impact the organization in a negative way, MaineHealth offers “extensive training and personalization of the software to their style of practice to make the transition easier,” he said.

Another major concern is the issue of patient confidentiality, but Blumenfeld said MaineHealth has “taken all the steps necessary to be compliant with state and federal requirements for protection of personal health information. Nonetheless, there is always a risk and it is something we monitor constantly.”

After the system is put into place in all eight MaineHealth hospitals, Blumenfeld said the use of an electronic health records system will create “higher quality, safer and lower cost for health care, with greater patient satisfaction in the care they receive” in the state of Maine.

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