On my far-too-frequent visits to my younger daughter’s pediatrician, I’ve noticed pristine new monitors and keyboards wrapped up and sitting in the corner of the exam rooms. Over the last six months, there they’ve sat, waiting patiently to be unwrapped and plugged in. “What’s the hold up,” I think? As a parent, I’m hoping this new system will offer the doctors e-prescribing capabilities. As a healthcare IT observer, I’m wondering why what I presume to be an electronic health record (EHR) is taking so long to come out of the box and into operation. Is it a question of resources? Is the facility waiting for a training team to be made available? Is there back-end infrastructure that has yet to be put in place? These are the things I think about while dealing with low-grade fevers and scheduled immunizations.
Needless to say, my interest is always piqued when I come across stories of pediatricians adopting EHRs and/or realizing the benefits of that technology. So when I came across news that Sandhills Pediatrics had received $184,000 in EHR incentives, I was intrigued. The Columbia, S.C.-based practice has been using an EHR from SRS since 2010.
“Even our initially most skeptical physicians became committed SRS EHR users in a very short period of time,” said Kevin O. Wessinger, M.D., president of Sandhills Pediatrics, in the release announcing the pay out. “All fourteen physicians and their staff value the efficiencies that SRS has delivered and the patient care and practice improvements that SRS has facilitated.”
I recently spoke with SRS CEO Evan Steele to learn more about how Sandhills implemented the EMR back in 2010, and the benefits they’ve realized from it.
This being the practice’s first EHR, what prompted them to make the move from paper to digital?
ES: “The driving force was the quality of care Sandhills was providing. With 4 locations and Saturday and Sunday office hours only at the central location, patient chart review was a big challenge. The patient charts that were housed at the satellite offices, because that’s where the patients were normally seen, and so were not available to review for weekend care. Additionally, the practice provides nurse triage in the evenings until 10:00pm and again, the satellite patients’ charts were not available.”
Did you, as the vendor, encounter any barriers to adoption from the Sandhills staff?
“No, we did not encounter any barriers to adoption. Our implementation plan is highly developed and assures 100% adoption. In addition, the Sandhills team’s dedication to success allowed them to achieve their EHR goals. Furthermore, the decision to implement the SRS EHR was driven from the top down. Sometimes the age of the physicians may impact adoptability. At Sandhills, 12 of the 14 physicians are under the age of 50 so they are more computer-savvy and willing to make the change.”
What sort of “extras” do the pediatric practices look for when selecting an EMR?
“Unique to pediatrics are immunizations. The SRS development staff worked closely with Sandhills on immunizations and pediatric growth charts. SRS secured the integration between Sandhills and the World Health Organization, developed a table for displaying and storing vaccine information, and enabled Sandhills to provide this information to their patients in a usable format.
“With a patient population of 57,000, Sandhills had to provide every kindergarten, grade school, and day care with proof of immunization. In the past, the practice had to hand-write 20,000 immunization certificates each year. SRS was readily available to provide a solution to this issue and saved the Sandhills staff many hours of aggravation. SRS created a form that auto-populates the immunization information so now the Sandhills staff no longer needs to hand-write each certificate.
The same process and benefits were developed for growth charts. The SRS EHR provides the patient’s age, and the Sandhills staff only has to enter height and weight, and this information auto-populates on the growth charts.
SRS created efficiencies, which coupled with our uniqueness in allowing physicians to continue to document notes as they are accustomed, has led to a successful implementation and positive EHR experience.”
How have clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction been improved since the EMR was installed?
“Clinical outcomes have improved as the physicians have access to pertinent clinical data at any time from any place. Additionally, the staff is quicker to respond to patient inquiries. They’ve experienced tremendous improvements in efficiencies and patient outcomes as a direct result of using SRS Order Management. Sandhills used to have manual paper tracking of lab tests and now with the SRS EHR, an expected date pops up in the system and if a test is not back by then, an alert is shown calling attention to the fact that it needs to be addressed.
“The patients, especially those seen on the weekends and evenings, have commented that they appreciate the improved and quick service. When they call in to the office with questions and concerns, they are comforted and given peace of mind knowing that the Sandhills’ staff is completely familiar and up-to-date with their situation.”
What do you think will be the next evolution of EHRs for pediatrics?
SRS Development recently unveiled vaccine inventory control. This process is entirely manual now, but the new enhancements will automatically track down the vaccine to the lot number. It’s also a double-check for safety that the lot numbers they have match what’s in computer. This is a double benefit – quality control and inventory control. This new development will especially find favor with the nurses, who are so happy that a daily occurrence that used to take 2 hours will now take 2 minutes.”