AGH Scores Grant For Electronic Records Transition

BERLIN – Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) is staying up to date with federal requirements in taking the local health care system into the future and is reaping rewards by doing so.

AGH recently received $1.8 million from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) for achieving Stage 1 Meaningful Use.

By federal definition, meaningful use is the use of certified electronic health record (EHR) technology to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care while reducing health disparities.

“Meaningful use essentially means that we purchase, invest in and implement an electronic medical record system in the hospital and in the physician offices that is certified by the federal government as a system that meets all the standards associated with the HiTech Act,” AGH President/CEO Michael Franklin said.

Franklin furthered once the certified EHR has been installed and used in a meaningful way data is then documented and required to be reported for the first 90 days in the first year and one year subsequently.

Among the 14 core objectives evaluated for Stage 1 is computerized physician order entry. For example, no more handwritten orders for testing or prescriptions being submitted for patient care and maintaining active medication and allergy lists in each patient’s electronic chart.

“In the past, it would be this telephone game where a physician would write an order and somebody would have to take that order, write a prescription, interpret it and enter it into a subsystem for that to be carried out so … by the end of it all you hope they do the right test and the same goes for lab results,” Franklin said of the benefits. “Whenever there is a handoff like that, there is always a risk for an error … it eliminates a lot of those inefficiencies and opportunities for error from the previous environment, the environment that the majority of hospitals still function in.”

AGH launched an electronic record system in its emergency room in November 2011 and has been working since then to expand the system, called PERKS, to other hospital outpatient environments and the inpatient units.

AGH is the second hospital on the Eastern Shore, Edward McCready Memorial Hospital in Crisfield being the other, to receive meaningful use dollars. Based upon a recently published federal report, AGH is ahead of more than three-quarters of U.S. hospitals in implementing an HER.

The payments for meaningful use, such as the $1.8 million just received, will return some of the cost of the project to the hospital and allow AGH to devote those resources to other patient care initiatives.  

“Overall, the investment in this project will be well over $10 million,” said AGH Vice President of Information Services Barbara Riddell. “But, it’s well worth it. It’s the right direction for AGH and for patients in our community.”

Franklin added the key idea is there are five stages within meaningful use. Last year CMS finalized Stage 2 that will go into effect in 2014.

“So we are going to have to invest in making sure that all of our systems and everything we are doing meets Stage 2,” he said. “They are working on finalizing Stage 3 right now, we don’t even know what that is going to mean … so we are not even sure what kind of investments we are going to need. So likely this is going to be reinvested in making sure we can continue to meet those meaningful use standards.”

Beginning in 2015, CMS will begin penalizing hospitals who haven’t met meaningful use in the form of lower reimbursement rates for care provided.

In addition to achieving the Meaningful Use Stage 1 this year at the hospital, all of the Atlantic General Health System (AGHS) physicians who are eligible for these federal incentive payments have met the standard this year. AGHS implemented electronic medical record systems in the physician offices four years ago, and this year AGHS has received $374,000 in Stage 1 Meaningful Use incentive payments in addition to the $1.8 million recently received.

According to Franklin, in the State of Maryland, there are 10 or fewer that have tested an EHR.

“We are kind of in that front wave of hospitals that have it across the country,” he said. “The big message is those hospitals who get in early will have the most rewards and have the ability to reinvest in keeping the system up to date, where it is going to be more difficult for those who don’t keep up.”

Stage 2 will include a patient portal where patients will have access to and log-in to their own medical records. The patient will be able to deposit medical records from other areas as well as AGH will add their own records for that patient.

“We will be required to drive a certain percentage of patients to the patient portal to use it,” Riddel said.

Vice President of Public Relations Toni Keiser said it has been interesting to see the patients’ reception to this wave of the future.

“The fact that they are interested and involved in wanting to know when they will have access to their records … and they are in tune in what’s going on in the industry and within our hospital,” she said. “It drives compliance and that helps keep patients out of the hospital. They are taking their meds and are aware of what’s going on with their health care and what their results are. It keeps them from coming back to the hospital and keeps our community healthier.”