By Heddy Pomazi

Back in February, the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society published a research report on how health care facilities were using Electronic Medical Records (EMR). It was the first time anyone had looked at hospitals whose EMR systems were in the advanced stages of development, and the findings showed considerable benefits for both the practices and their patients.

Quality of care, patient safety and efficiency of operation were all positively impacted by EMR, the report said. In fact, a statement released along with the report said that each and every one of the 33 participating hospitals “realized and documented at least one core measure benefit and one safety measure benefit from EMR implementation.”

Results like these are very exciting for BMH staff members like me. Brattleboro OB/GYN and Four Seasons Midwifery, along with other BMH Physician Group practices, had been using the Practice Management component of the hospital’s EMR system since last November. Both staff and patients are already seeing the benefits of electronic patient registration and appointment scheduling, including faster check-in and check-out, more efficient processing of co-payments and automated generation of reminder letters.

Now that our practice has settled into its spacious new location in the Gannett Building, we’ve been in full-conversion mode preparing for the second phase of EMR use, starting with entering and scanning selected data from patients’ paper charts into the system. Our practitioners will be furnished with computers that enable physicians, midwives and nurses to electronically update patient charts during visits. (I should note that the complete paper chart will continue to be available for providers as needed.) Any diagnostic images captured during an office visit can easily be added to a patient’s chart for future reference.

The use of Electronic Charting provides OB/GYN patients and caregivers with a safer and more efficient way of managing critical health information. First and foremost, having access to a single system that safely shares patient information among healthcare providers will aid in making appropriate clinical care decisions. Your OB/GYN provider may need to view medications that had been prescribed by your primary care provider, for example. Or if a patient is receiving care from our cardiology specialist, her provider in this office may need to view those treatment plans which may impact the patient’s OB/GYN care. This is a great time saver and reduces unnecessary duplication of efforts.

EMR also has many advantages over phone, fax, and paper methods of communicating. Whether we’re sending prescription information to a pharmacy, ordering tests from the medical lab or imaging department, EMR offers standardized and legible medical record-keeping that reduces the risk of misinterpretation and medical error. What’s more, all of these communications can be tracked over time to provide a fast comparison of results.

Communication in general is just made easier by EMR. The type of care an OB/GYN office provides comes with a certain amount of unpredictability, and the physicians and midwives have to be ready all hours of the day and night for a call to deliver a baby. The EMR system allows for sophisticated and timely messaging between staff, doctors and nurses. It also gives us a better ability to stay on top of follow up appointments; whether they are for routine check-ups or following up on a problem visit, or even making sure a woman is scheduling other regular health maintenance tasks like annual mammograms.

Phase two of EMR implementation should be completed by next month, at which point Brattleboro OB/GYN will be joining six other BMH Physician Group practices already functioning in an environment that includes electronic charting and medical records. As we and other area practices continue to advance in their use of electronic medical records, we expect to see the same positive effects on our ability to deliver the high quality, safe and efficient care to our patients that national research is showing.

Heddy Pomazi works for Brattleboro Memorial Hospital as a Physician Practice Analyst.