Electronic Medical Records Securing Early Wins at County Clinics

Effective systems design is crucial to the implementation success of any project. For Vanetta Abdellatif, Director of Integrated Clinical Services at the Multnomah County Health Department, being at the helm of implementing an electronic medical records (EMR) system has been a challenging and rewarding undertaking.

North Portland Health Center became the pilot facility for the county’s first EMR launch in late 2005. The clinic transitioned from paper records to a computer-based system. Protecting health records and operational efficiency were the main drivers to implementing EMRs in county clinics.

“We need to increase our use of technology to deliver better patient care and protect patient records as evidenced by the recent loss of public health care infrastructure in the Gulf States due to hurricane Katrina,” Vanetta said in a statement. “The pilot project has produced results that have exceeded our expectations, including saving time, increasing staff efficiency, and ultimately ensuring the proper care of our patients.”

Since the first clinic went live on EMR, four other medical clinics followed, as well as 12 school-based clinics. “It’s been a huge initiative,” said Vanetta. “EMR is significantly changing how we deliver care, and how we organize care offered through the clinics."

Tasks like pulling or filing paper charts are replaced by simply clicking a patients name in the EMR system. The system also promises to make easier the process of generating reports for provider review.

In 2006, the county’s Electronic Medical Records (EMR) Implementation Team received the “Outstanding Caregiver” award by the Oregon Primary Care Association (OPCA). OPCA provides advocacy on public policy and assistance to members to help decrease health disparities and increase access to comprehensive health care for low-income and vulnerable people in Oregon.

Vanetta acknowledges that any systems change involves challenges. Staff at clinics experience a “learning curve” at the outset, particularly because any new system involves adapting new processes. “We’re really dependent on the providers to input the health records to the system. It’s like getting a new computer: to get the performance you want, you have to continue to build capacity. It often takes a long time before it is customized to your needs.”

“For providers who have had EMRs for a long time and have seen patients multiple times – the system works real well. It helps them sort through interventions that other providers have conducted with the patient, particularly with diagnoses and medications,” she said. “We’re able to provide a more integrated approach to how we deliver health care.”

Spring 2007

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