January 28, 2011

Electronic record conversion reflects world of future

There’s no doubting the credentials of Russ Branzell when it comes to knowing about the ongoing conversion from paper to electronic medical records.

Branzell, chief information officer for Poudre Valley Health System, has been overseeing the process for PVHS’ two hospitals – Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland – as well as the Poudre Valley Medical Group, which encompasses PVHS-affiliated medical practices.

But he’s also involved with the changeover at the state level through C4 – the Colorado CIO Communications Collaborative – and on the national level as the Colorado coordinator for CHIME, the College of Healthcare Information Executives. CHIME helps its members better manage health-care information and is also involved in helping with the transfer to digital medical records to qualify for incentive funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

While many hospitals and physicians’ offices have been undertaking the expensive and arduous process of converting their paper systems to digital systems for years, the effort has taken on more urgency since the passage of the ARRA stimulus package and the Health Care Affordability Act of 2010.

Funds for reimbursement of costs to digitize record systems are available under ARRA, and the health-care reform act calls for every American to have an electronic health record by 2014.

Branzell said the state and national efforts are moving in the same direction. Under C4, Branzell said there’s an ongoing collaborative effort with the governor’s office, the Colorado Regional Health Information Organization (CORHIO), the Colorado Hospital Association and other groups “to break down the barriers and make sure we do this effectively in Colorado.”

Through CHIME, Branzell said, “We’re working as a national collaborative to try to drive some equivalent standards for the whole country.”

So with all this effort going into the nationwide health record conversion, it should be a piece of cake to get everyone on board by 2014 – right?

Branzell doubts it.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Look at Colorado, which has a lot of rural areas. It’s a big struggle for them. They have to come up with the money on the front end to get government reimbursement.”

While individual doctor’s offices can get up to $44,000 for the conversion under ARRA, that’s likely far less than what it will actually cost to do the changeover.

“Putting up a lot of money for a new system could bankrupt them,” Branzell said of small practices.

Good news for region

The good news for Northern Colorado is that both of the region’s health-care systems – PVHS and Phoenix-based Banner Health – are well along toward full digital conversion.

According to Betty Patterson, Banner Health spokeswoman, the health system began converting its records in 2003. McKee Medical Center in Loveland completed its conversion in July 2009 and North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley is about 80 percent there and expected to be finished by July.

Branzell said PVHS – which started converting in 2004 – is expecting to finish by fall. He said the two systems are leaders in the state and nation.

“We’ve probably been at the front of the pack from an adoption perspective,” he said. “Both systems have chosen to make a very healthy investment in conversion over the last three or four years.”

In the case of PVHS, Branzell said that investment is probably somewhere between $30 million and $40 million. Branzell said PVHS is expecting to get some reimbursement from the federal government but it will be “nowhere close to the investment we put in.”

“We’ve done all this not because of the government requirements,” he said. “We did it for all the right reasons – patient care and safety and organizational efficiency.”

Branzell said he worries about health-care organizations that are just now trying to convert. “Most organizations that are just doing this for the money or trying to slam it in will have a lot of trouble,” he said.

Still, Branzell said converting to digital records is the wave of the future and health-care providers won’t regret it when they finally get through it.

“It’s a major change in flow for offices that have been traditionally paper-based,” he said. “It’s something that usually takes one to three years to really start to get into a full flow.

“I tell them this will not be a fun experience. It will be difficult and fairly disruptive,” he added. “But you won’t be able to compete and do health care without one of these systems. That’s the world we’re going to be living in.”

Steve Porter covers health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3147 or at sporter@ncbr.com.

There’s no doubting the credentials of Russ Branzell when it comes to knowing about the ongoing conversion from paper to electronic medical records.

Branzell, chief information officer for Poudre Valley Health System, has been overseeing the process for PVHS’ two hospitals – Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland – as well as the Poudre Valley Medical Group, which encompasses PVHS-affiliated medical practices.

But he’s also involved with the changeover at the state level through C4 – the Colorado CIO Communications Collaborative – and on the national level as the Colorado coordinator for CHIME, the…

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