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Rice officials behind $4.7M investment to integrate bills, patient files

Marjorie Johnson, a nurse at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, uses a computer to enter information Wednesday in a patient's room. A clinical information system approved by the hospital board will electronically integrate the majority of patient clinical and billing information, building on what the city-owned hospital is already doing with electronic patient records. It also capitalizes on a growing push for health care providers to enter the digital age. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital's board of directors voted in favor Wednesday of investing $4.7 million in a clinical information system that will electronically integrate the majority of patient clinical and billing information.

The city-owned hospital's vendor of choice: Epic, a private company from Madison, Wis., that specializes in health care software.

The selection was the recommendation of a Rice Hospital ste-ering committee whose members spent months researching and evaluating all the options.

The process was "very thorough," said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital. "We've had all kinds of stakeholders involved in this process."

It will take more than a year -- until February 2012 -- for the new system to be up and running. Once it is, it's expected to take Rice Hospital's patient information management capabilities to a critical new level.

Not only does it build on what Rice is already doing with electronic patient records but it also paves the way for expansion. It also capitalizes on a growing push for health care providers to enter the digital age.

The majority of hospitals and clinics in the U.S. still rely on old-fashioned paper records. There's a slow yet steady movement toward electronic systems, though.

In Minnesota, providers are required to have electronic medical record systems by 2015. The federal government also has adopted incentives that dole out extra money to providers who go digital and who meet certain criteria for meaningful use of electronic medical records.

Numerous information functions at Rice Hospital, from patient admissions and registration to clinical recordkeeping, will now be gathered under one umbrella, said Teri Beyer, the hospital's chief quality officer.

"This will provide greater integration for us," she said.

Down the road it will enable physicians to enter their orders via computer, she said. Eventually it'll also be possible for the system to be linked to the electronic medical records systems at Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Family Practice Medical Center, allowing patient information such as medication lists and test results to be more easily reviewed.

Epic doesn't market its products to hospitals the size of Rice, Beyer said. But Rice managed to get into the marketplace through an alliance with the CentraCare Health System of St. Cloud, which is hosting similar partnerships with other smaller hospitals in the region.

The move is expected to improve care delivery for people who are patients at both CentraCare and Rice, Beyer said.

Because most of the major hospitals in the Twin Cities also use Epic, it opens the door to a smoother exchange of patient information with those facilities as well, she said.

The $4.7 million cost of acquiring and installing the Epic system includes $1.2 million for the software, $100,000 for hardware, $800,000 to implement the system and another $2.6 million for maintenance over the next five years.

Of the five vendors who submitted proposals, Epic had the lowest price. It also rated the highest in user satisfaction.

"We think we are recommending the system that definitely meets our needs," Schramm said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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