UMass Memorial CEO: $700 EHR investment will more than pay for itself

July 29, 2015
Source: 
Central Mass Health Care / WBJ

By: Emily Micucci

Employees of UMass Memorial Health Care (UMMHC) might have suffered a serious case of sticker shock when they learned about the $700 million cost to roll out a new electronic health record system and revamp the health care provider's IT infrastructure when CEO Dr. Eric Dickson unveiled those plans in a blog post last week.

For a system that has shed significant services and worked toward consolidating its footprint in Worcester over the last couple of years, the number seems like a lot to chew.

"It's a lot of money, no matter how you look at," Dickson said in an interview Tuesday.

But the administration already had the blessing of employees by the time Dickson said UMMHC would contract with Wisconsin-based health care software provider Epic to provide electronic health records services for the next 10 years.

The administration had surveyed front-line caregivers on where they would prefer to see the organization, the largest health care provider and employer in Central Massachusetts, invest capital.

Overwhelmingly, employees wanted to forgo building projects in favor of improving the hospital's IT system, Dickson said. And after testing different options, Epic was the clear winner — despite the fact that employees were told it would be the costliest option.

In reality, the move is expected to make providers who work at the system's four hospitals more efficient, freeing them up to see more patients in the same amount of time, said Dickson, an ER physician who still practices.

Because UMMHC used several different software solutions at the various hospital campuses and outpatient offices, doctors who are trying to treat a patient in the emergency room must often spend a lot of time logging into different systems to obtain important information about health care histories, Dickson said.

"If Epic can improve efficiency by two to three percent, it will pay for itself, several times over, very quickly," Dickson said.

Dickson said having a robust, integrated EHR system is crucial to becoming an integrated health care delivery system, the organization's driving goal. But it will take time. Bringing Epic online, first at the system's Worcester hospitals as well as Marlborough and Clinton hospitals, will take two years. It's expected to launch in July 2017, and soon after will be extended to HealthAlliance Hospital campuses in Leominster and Fitchburg.

The $700 million price tag includes upgrading Wi-Fi infrastructure as well as computer stations throughout the system. In the end, UMMHC will have a state-of-the-art IT system in place, as well as Epic's electronic records software, which is used by many major providers across the United States, including several Boston-area hospitals.

An opportunity for other providers?

But according to Dickson, UMMHC isn't the only party that stands to gain. The system is planning to give its affiliates in Central Massachusetts, including Heywood Hospital in Gardner, Southbridge-based Harrington HealthCare and Milford Regional Medical Center, the opportunity to sign onto the platform to track their patients who receive treatment within the UMMHC system.

UMMHC, which has discussed this option with the other hospitals, would use its contract with Epic to help them negotiate a lower price than what they currently pay for EHR systems. The same offer will apply to about 500 independent physicians whom UMMHC contracts with in Central Massachusetts.

With providers able to share patient data throughout Central Massachusetts, Dickson believes patients will benefit greatly, and given UMass Memorial's scale, "it's a role only we can play," he said.

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