By April 1, WellStar Connect will allow patient records to be accessed across the entire network of care providers in the WellStar Health System. The stated goal is to improve appointment setting, specialist referrals and billing.
In March 2012, the WellStar Board of Trustees approved the $125 million investment to implement WellStar Connect, which will use integrated software to input 1.5 million visits each year.
Jon Morris, chief information officer for WellStar, said it took several months to complete a data conversion that loaded 2.3 million outpatient visits, 1.5 million radiology results and 7.7 million lab results from the legacy system.
Epic, a Wisconsin-based industry leader in software solutions, designed the system that will connect physician offices, hospitals and even a patient's mobile device to a centralized network.
WellStar Health System includes Cobb, Douglas, Kennestone, Paulding and Windy Hill hospitals; WellStar Medical Group; Urgent Care Centers; Health Place; Homecare; Hospice; Atherton Place; Paulding Nursing Center and WellStar Foundation.
Morris, who has been an emergency department physician since 1986 at WellStar Kennestone Hospital, said the technology will enhance the care given to patients.
In the classroom
More than 10,000 people received standardized training. For a physician, that included 12 hours in a classroom and two hours of online work, Morris said.
"There is a tremendous amount of training," Morris said. "We are taking everybody to the next level."
Murphy Townsend, an urologist affiliated with, but not employed by, WellStar for 15 years, is part of the Epic team helping with the transition to the new electronic records system.
Townsend said the team has been extremely thorough, including safeguarding against security breaches of highly sensitive medical records.
"It is a lot more involved than I imagined," Townsend said.
Townsend said the system verifies the user is accessing the information, which is safer than old practices of sending paper copies that could be misfiled or lost.
In the past, medical records have been "venue-based," meaning where the patient was most recently treated is where the most updated record would be located.
Townsend said, as a specialist, he is often hunting for faxes of lab results or waiting for the referring physician's office to send over a patient file.
Emergency room staff would not have access to the files, or patient information might be missing, if records were not updated and filed in a timely manner, Morris said.
WellStar Connect will allow medical records to travel with the patient, including dates of past appointments, a list of current medications and other treatments that have not worked.
"It will be a much more efficient and effective way to share information," Morris said.
Gone are the days of paper charts hanging from hospital beds and doctors scribbling notes in files. Now wall-mounted and desktop computers allow for "bedside charting."
Morris said health care is being reformed from treating a condition to keeping a patient healthy, which should include patients being able to retrieve all of their medical records.
"You're the patient, you should have access," Morris said.
WellStar Connect will have a "MyChart" feature that can be accessed online to send a message to the physician about next steps based on the test results. A patient can also request to have a prescription refilled or to review after-care instructions following a surgery.
Access to WellStar Connect throughout the WellStar Health System will be rolled out in phases:
Phase I started Sept. 23; 153 providers in 41 locations, including pediatric doctors, family practices, internal medicine and OB-GYN offices
Phase 2 starts Dec. 1; 194 providers at 35 locations, including WellStar Kennestone Hospital, cardiologist offices and urgent cares
Phase 3 starts April 1; 169 providers at 46 locations, including specialists and home hospice