TMC welcomes UA medical centers to digital records system

Tucson Medical Center is pleased with the recent announcement by University of Arizona Medical Center that it will be moving toward a new electronic medical records system.

TMC, which in June 2010 completed a massive project to transition to a paperless environment, has found the system has not only been more efficient, but allows for better patient care.

“It has been a very good thing for the hospital,” said Frank Marini, TMC’s chief information officer.

 As an example, he noted improvements in ensuring the right medication goes to the right patients through the use of a barcode system. In 2011, for example, TMC administered 2.5 million doses of medication. In that same time period, there were 12,500 alerts at the bedside – about .5 percent of the cases – that the wrong medication was attempting to be administered. The system is quite nuanced, he said, so it could be that the patient was about to get a caplet instead of a tablet, or a different strength, or a timed-release version. “It may be OK, it may not, but at least that person now has the opportunity to say, ‘Is this OK and should I move forward?’  We think that number is significant.”

The fact the UA campuses will be using Epic software is also a plus, he said. TMC in 2001 became the first Epic shop in Arizona, installing about half of the Epic module system. In 2008, hospital officials decided to do a full-blown implementation to upgrade the remaining parts of the system to make even greater strides in quality and patient safety. The second round required an investment of about $30 million.

When the hospital went live with the new technology in 2010, it joined only 1 percent of hospitals across the country.

Marini said while that number is growing slowly, moving to digital records is a significant challenge. Quite aside from the cost, it also requires solid commitment to training and to adjusting work flows to work efficiently in an electronic setting.

The fact UA is going to come online with Epic raises interesting possibilities, Marini said, since the system comes with the necessary software to allow the exchange of information with other Epic systems. “I think it can be good for both organizations and good for the community,” Marini said. “We have an opportunity to do something we couldn’t do before, which is to connect.”  For example, given patient authorization, doctors at the UA trauma unit could easily retrieve information from TMC if that patient had been treated here in the past, instead of having to rely on phone, copy and fax.

Plus, Marini said, the Epic community tends to be collaborative and TMC is available to share its implementation lessons. “We’ve hit some potholes and we generally help people avoid those same potholes. We’re part of the Epic community and we’re just wired that way.”

On common misconception, for example: Once the program is live, the work isn’t over. “Bringing it up isn’t the end, actually, it’s the beginning,” he said. There was an expectation early on that after an intense implementation period, work would just go back to normal. “But we found that as the technology is better understood and better used, the demand to use it more robustly, to fine tune it and optimize it, just goes through the roof.”

“Our teams, and the organization as a whole, are running at a frantic pace to continue to improve it. The implementation is just one milestone. This is a journey.”

To read more about the UA announcement, check out the Arizona Daily Star story Sunday.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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