By O’Neil Britton, MD, Chief Health Information Officer, Partners HealthCare

In 2004, President George W. Bush used his State of the Union speech to champion a new health information technology plan and what we now commonly call electronic health records (EHRs). “By computerizing health records,” said Bush, “we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care.”

At that time, while most major hospitals had computerized patient records to varying degrees, few could assemble a truly complete picture of each patient. From primary care to specialty medicine, from outpatient tests to inpatient stays, and from rehabilitation to home care, comprehensive data shared by all members of the care team was a rarity. With acronyms like BICS and MUMPS, Partners HealthCare founding members, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, were among the pioneers in early healthcare IT but, within the hospitals and across Partners, the result was still a patchwork quilt of clinical and administrative information that was not as efficient, safe or comprehensive as it could be.

President Bush was right but it would take the 2008 economic downturn to spur President Obama and Congress to advance the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, in 2009. Eager for “shovel-ready” projects that would reinvigorate the economy and support better and more efficient healthcare, the HITECH Act earmarked $27 billion for EHRs and included meaningful use incentives to ensure hospitals would use them to their fullest capacity.

With about 85 percent of Partners’ patient transactions now involving Epic, Partners eCare is beginning to deliver on its promise to improve care

In July, 2012, clinical and administrative leaders from across Partners HealthCare made the decision to bring the care coordination benefits of a fully integrated EHR to its patients. This ambitious, five-year project would involve thousands of staff to design, validate, build, test and implement a comprehensive system. It would be the largest single investment in patient care quality, safety and efficiency in our history. We chose Epic, the nation’s leading provider of health information technology, the system used by many of our peers including Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Duke, Yale and Kaiser Permanente.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, EHR adoption rates have increased to the point that all states were reporting EHR adoption rates of 50 percent or higher by 2014, with Massachusetts at 76 percent.* Today, with almost 60,000 users, our integrated health record – we call it Partners eCare – is in place at our founding academic medical centers, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Partners HealthCare at Home, numerous community-based practices and our affiliated institutions, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts Eye and Ear. The remainder of our community and specialty hospitals and practices will go-live on the system in waves through 2017.

Partners eCare is a clear example of the benefit of a system like Partners to our patients. Our staff are now better connected with their peers, better informed about their patients and richer in the knowledge that spurs discovery than ever before. With about 85 percent of Partners’ patient transactions now involving Epic, Partners eCare is beginning to deliver on its promise to improve care: we’re already seeing progress in the speed with which we share vitally-needed health records across the country; in new ways we introduce patients to clinical trials; in more advanced methods for monitoring our sickest patients; and leveraging mobile technology to safely and securely deliver care.

This is part of an occasional series on Partners eCare, a Partners HealthCare initiative to bring the benefits of a fully integrated electronic health record to our patients.

* Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Data Brief No. 23 | Adoption of Electronic Health Record Systems among U.S. Non-Federal Acute Care Hospitals: 2008-2014

Topics: Technology, Patient Experience, Innovation

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