Berkshire Health Systems in throes of 'massive' streamlining of patient records

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Health Systems wants to improve the efficiency of care and make it easier for patients to take a more hands-on role with their treatment plans.

To do that, the company is investing $35 million over three years to change how patient data is stored and shared.

"We're doing a massive electronic medical record project," said Bill Young, chief information officer at BHS. "We're really trying to get everyone on one system. I think it's going to have a lot of really positive impact."

For the past six years, Berkshire Health Systems has used FollowMyHealth as an electronic patient portal for its outpatient medical records. The system has allowed patients to view their lab results, medication lists and other medical data, as well as exchange messages with health care providers within their physician network, through a website or app.

The system, though, was unable to share messages or data among physicians' offices and the hospital or the BMC Cancer Center, according to Young.

Beginning early next year, though, that will change.

Berkshire Health Systems has acquired Meditech's "Expanse," an electronic record-keeping system that will integrate data throughout inpatient and outpatient settings. Technology consultants and staff have taken over nearly an entire floor at the Medical Arts Complex to develop the system.

"We're moving our hospital medical record, our physician medical record and even our cancer center medical records all into one brand-new electronic medical record," Young said.

Not only will the new program reduce the amount of time that care providers spend collecting data from their patients during visits to new offices within the system, but it also will limit the chance for errors in data entry, according to Dr. Mark Snowise, who is leading the effort to develop and implement the project.

With Meditech, physicians will be able to share notes and medication lists, ask each other questions about shared patients and see what treatments they are undergoing at other offices, the hospital or the cancer center, he said.

If Snowise includes a note on a patient's medical record, every physician taking care of that patient will be able to see it, he said. The patient also will have access to that information through the Expanse patient portal.

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Unlike with BHS' current system, "I won't have to go searching for notes for the patients in the hospital," Snowise said.

"It works, but it's just labor-intensive and you have to be careful," he said of the current system. "Now, that's all integrated, so if my patient ends up at the cancer center, I can communicate easily."

The new system also will give BHS more control of patient data as the portal is integrated fully with the medical records.

While FollowMyHealth is a government-certified electronic medical record portal, it is operated outside Berkshire Health Systems. After a physician sends an emailed link to sign up for the service, the patient signs a user agreement with FollowMyHealth that indicates whether that data can be used for marketing purposes.

"And you know nobody ever reads the user agreements," said BHS Director of Media Relations Michael Leary.

With Meditech, the electronic medical record will exist within the control of the health care system and patients, Young said.

"We haven't had anything like that happen with our data, that I know, but either way, we're happy we're kind of putting that in the background and moving to a new future," Young said.

The portal also will be more user-friendly, Leary said.

Leary said that he regularly gets calls from patients who can't log in to FollowMyHealth or erroneously signed up for the service directly though the third-party website, without using the BHS link. He doesn't expect it to be an issue with the new system, and therefore more patients likely will use the portal to keep track of their health.

"Right now, we're probably somewhere between 30 to 40 percent usage of FollowMyHealth, which is fairly low," Snowise said. "We'd love it to be more than that."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle and 413-770-6977.


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