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Project to Implement Regional EMRs in Mississippi

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media, January 30, 2008
Two years after the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina, the healthcare community in the Gulf Coast region is still recovering. But an electronic medical record project spearheaded by the Mississippi-based Coastal Family Health Center may help with the rebuilding process.

The Coastal Family Health Center network is working to centrally implement the HealthPort EMR system across its seven-member network. Katrina destroyed Coastal Health's data center, and was an impetus to the regional EMR project.

"We lost about 60,000 patients' paper medical records, so to go electronic and have it remotely hosted with multiple copies of the data was just a good business decision," says Coastal Health CIO Chuck Clark. "We intend to have all seven of the community health centers and all clinics up on medical records by the end of September this year."

Coastal Family Health Center operates community health centers along the Mississippi coast, serving coastal counties by providing primary healthcare, dental care, and optical care. There are seven of these community health centers, along with their 30 clinics, in the state.

Connecting the centers via electronic records will benefit all of them, Clark says.

"By going into a network like this, we're helping them by reducing their overhead costs," Clark says. "When you go in and you cooperate with other groups, you can always save money."

The EMR provides information on the patients' family history and medical history, and includes other patient-centered information. For example, if a doctor prescribes a patient medication that is contradictive to what the patient is already taking, the system flags it.

The system can also remind physicians to perform recommended tests like colonoscopies or mammograms, Clark says. "It reminds the provider or doctor that this patient is due those health maintenance items instead of the doctor always having to flip through a patient chart to keep track of these things."

The EMR is also beneficial to patients in an increasingly transient society, Clark says. "If we're all using compatible applications that we can exchange for medical information, their medical record becomes a lot more portable for them," he says.

General staff at the clinics is also appreciative of the EMRs, says Edna Brown, third party insurance supervisor/management information systems coordinator at Northeast Mississippi Health Center in Bahaya. Simply not having to look for individual patient charts is a huge time-saver, she says.

Additionally, having the patient information readily available has helped the medical secretaries, who no longer have to pull 500 charts for labs.

"We are a big clinic--we have a lot of charts, a lot of providers," Brown says. "When providers would get the labs before, everything was on paper. We would put the information on the chart, and put it on the provider's desk. But if that provider is out, that chart is out, and if the patient comes in during that time then we're stuck hunting for that chart."

Clark says that despite the EMR's success, his goal is to continue expanding it. Patients do not currently have access to their own records, but Coastal is working on a Web portal in which patients can pay a monthly or annual fee to access their medical files.

Another important step, Clark says, is to get hospitals in on the electronic record exchange--especially those on the Mississippi coast that are near Coastal's clinics.

"They have to fax us data, we have to manually input the data, then discharge summaries have to be faxed over then scanned into the patient's electronic record," Clark says. "It will be much better when we can get everybody to where all of these systems can talk together and we can exchange all of this information electronically."


Ben Cole is associate editor with HealthLeaders Online News. He can be reached at bcole@healthleadersmedia.com.