By: Steven Cummings, MBA

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH) is completing a major upgrade to our information technology systems so all hospital departments, BMH Medical Group practices, and other computer systems will be more effectively linked, while giving our patients better access to their complete medical records. To our patients, the mechanics of the upgrade will be largely invisible, but the benefits will be immediate and long lasting.

After extensive research, BMH chose to upgrade to Community Works, a product of the Cerner Corporation, a leading technology company that serves more than 18,000 health care facilities worldwide.

Why upgrade? BMH currently uses multiple information systems to manage patient data, communicate between staff and departments, document clinical work, schedule surgeries and many other tasks of providing care to our patients. The Emergency Department uses one system, the BMH Medical Group practices, Birthing Center, Laboratory, Patient Registration, Billing and other areas all use their own systems as well. While information is available to users across multiple systems, important details in a patient’s full medical record are not always easily accessible.

To provide the best possible care for our patients, we need to understand their complete medical picture, no matter where within the BMH system they may find themselves.

While the technical aspects of the upgrade are happening largely behind the scenes, Cerner deployed a team of their employees to help BMH implement the upgrade.  A few hundred of our 600 employees worked diligently to become “Subject Matter Experts” and “Super Users” within their departments so we will have in-house expertise on all aspects of the new system when it goes live next week.

One of the benefits of the new system is that our patients will have access to many parts of their medical record through a new Patient Portal.  This will make it easier to forward relevant pieces of their record to physicians outside of the area. For instance, if a patient spends half of their year in Florida, they can share key parts of their medical record with their physician down south including medical history, medications, lab test results, and many other details that will expedite their care.

In the new Cerner system, a patient’s critical details, including medications, emergency contacts, advanced directives will all be available in one record, accessible to those authorized to view it, and restricted from those who are not. Additional safety features will alert providers to allergies or other contraindicated medications.

When a patient checks in at any BMH practice or department, we will know: ‘This is Mary Smith, she has an allergy to penicillin, she was seen a week ago at the Emergency Department for a sprained ankle, which has already been x-rayed.’ We’ll also be able to pull up digital images of her recent x-ray, see the results of her lab work, and read the notes from the ED physician to better understand her discharge instructions and any referrals that might have been made.’ This timely access to a patient’s comprehensive medical record can eliminate the need for duplicative testing or procedures, and can reduce errors in transcription.

Another feature of the new system is a single patient portal through which patients can securely request refills on prescriptions, request appointments, review lab test results and pay their bills. Parents will have access to their minor children’s records through the portal, so that in addition to monitoring their health, they can access physician letters for summer camps and school sports as electronic documents. Those with caregiving responsibilities, or who serve as a Health Care Proxy for aging parents may also find the new system very valuable. Particularly for families who live far apart, this can be really helpful.  Being able, with a parent’s permission, to access health records and see the notes from physicians can help them coordinate in-home supports and advocate for their parents as they age.

With all the enhancements that are part of this upgrade, we are eagerly looking forward to the new system implementation. It’s been a huge undertaking, with many moving parts, but every day we are finding new ways we can better serve the needs of our patients and continue to provide exceptional care for our community.

Steven Cummings, MBA is the Vice President for Information and Support Services for Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.