After two years of careful preparation, El Camino Hospital announced that its new online medical records system is now live. The upgrade not only makes it easier for patients to tap into hospital services from home, it also means the hospital will be able to share information with other hospitals in the Bay Area on a close-knit digital network.
The new system, known as iCare, has been an ambitious endeavor on the part of the hospital. The program is expected to cost a total of $150 million, and required more than 100 hospital employees to leave their posts as physicians, nurses and pharmacists to work full-time on getting the system up and running.
Among its perks, patients will now be able to look up medical test results, schedule appointments and refill prescriptions online, as well as fill out pre-visit questionnaires ahead of time. It also means neighboring hospital networks like Stanford and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation can access El Camino Hospital's database for information on a patient's medications, allergies and other health problems.
The upgrade brings El Camino Hospital up to speed with many other local hospitals that are already connected through an electronic medical records system. Epic Systems, a medical software company that worked with the hospital to get iCare up and running, boasts that over 50 percent of the U.S. population already has electronic medical records. Millions of patients are already part of the Epic network in the Bay Area, according to Greg Walton, chief information officer for the hospital.
Now that El Camino has joined in, over 40,000 "exchanges" of patient information with other organizations have already taken place, Walton said.
Key staff working on the iCare launch looked happy and visibly exhausted at the Nov. 11 hospital board meeting, explaining that going live was challenging but mostly successful. The hospital has set up a 24-hour "command center" with more than 100 people fielding questions and problems. Thousands of requests had come in as of Nov. 11, mostly from nurses and physicians in the hospital.
Hiccups and problems include slower service for patients in the hospital, including delays in the emergency department, and a slower hospital discharge process. Cardiopulmonary patients had to re-register for treatment and rehabilitation, and at one point the hospital had to re-do identification bands for patients because of a glitch with the bar codes, according to staff members.
It wasn't easy for physicians, either. Board member Peter Fung, who is a neurologist, said he thought he was pretty well-versed with iCare, but had to ask questions just about every hour. He said tech support has given him plenty of helpful tips that would have been nice to know prior to launch. He said the command center, which is supposed to be staffed around the clock, was empty during lunch time, which is when physicians have a chance to ask questions.
Despite the problems, board member David Reeder told the Voice that the launch went about as well as it could have.
"We knew it wasn't going to be perfect, but I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of the team," Reeder said. "I went down there the day after going live, and I was really amazed with how calm it was."
Reeder, who chairs the board's iCare committee, said hospital staff did a lot of planning ahead of time, which made a big difference in going live with the new medical record system. He said it's probably going to take a month or two for things to smooth out, and the command center will continue to stick around for a few weeks to address bugs and other issues.
Responding to the threat of potential cyber attacks, Walton told the Voice in March that the hospital will have an in-house security team to monitor and update iCare against potential breaches. Walton called security and privacy a "top priority," and said the system has been audited to make sure it's up to government-mandated standards.