by Candi Helseth
Wheat fields and open prairie dominate the majority of Syringa Hospital’s 7,500-mile service area in Idaho’s frontier region, where only 16,000 residents reside. Yet, Hospitals and Health Networks has twice recognized this Critical Access Hospital (CAH), which has only 16 beds, as one of the nation’s Most Wired Hospitals.
Health Forum, an American Hospital Association information company, coordinates the Most Wired data and develops benchmarks for measuring information technology (IT) adoption for operational, financial and clinical performance in health care delivery systems. According to CEO Joe Cladouhos, Syringa was one of the first CAHs to receive the Most Wired distinction in Idaho and the first Idaho hospital to achieve HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Analytics Stage 6 status. The three-year process has been accomplished internally using hospital employees with little or no IT background. Cladouhos said it would have been too expensive and too complicated to bring in out-of-state industry experts.
“We decided early on if we couldn’t find the professional resources we needed to do this, we would figure it out for ourselves,” he stated. “This process has been a learn-as-you-go for all our staff. Fortunately, we have quick learners and a supportive medical staff. We like to think we are the little hospital that could when even a lot of big hospitals haven’t yet accomplished what we have.”
Syringa Hospital and Clinics, with one clinic attached to the hospital in Grangeville and a second clinic 24 miles away in Kooskia, went live with its first step in electronic conversion in early 2011. Hospitals nationwide are mandated by 2015 to implement electronic health records (EHRs). After 2015, penalties will be implemented for hospitals without EHRs.
Before proceeding, Syringa’s community-owned hospital board of directors had the formidable task of convincing voters to pass a $1.5 million loan for upfront funding. Idaho law at the time required voter approval. Choosing the right model and system was the hardest decision, said Darla Anglen-Whitley, Syringa’s “Go-Live” implementation manager. Getting staff buy-in and teaching staff to use the system required ongoing education throughout every department over a six-month period.
“This whole project was like a big puzzle where you analyze your operation and look at everything like workloads, procedures, etc. With every step, you ask why you have been doing it the way you do,” Anglen-Whitley said. “It’s been a challenge all over the country for physicians to deal with Meaningful Use mandates for things they were never responsible for in the past. Our staff did struggle with that at first. But now they are quite satisfied with how well it all works.”
In fact, Syringa’s staff of 10 physicians and midlevel practitioners has even gone paperless, using iPads for examinations and charting. Anglen-Whitley said staff appreciates the EHR system’s numerous safety provisions. For instance, built-in alerts notify staff of possible problems such as patient medication interactions and allergy reactions.
“This system has eliminated a lot of telephone tag too,” Anglen-Whitley commented. “It helps immensely between the hospital and clinic staffs that they no longer have to search to find out who saw this patient last or what happened at that visit. Any provider can easily access every medication, every note made about this patient, every order that has been given relative to that patient. Patient scheduling is easier and duplicative tests have been minimized.”
Improved patient safety is the biggest benefit, Cladouhos stressed. “EHR has transformed us as an organization,” Anglen-Whitley added. “It’s exciting to be helping make and drive our changes.”
As Broadband penetration improves throughout their frontier region, more patients will be able to access their records from home using the mySyringaChart patient portal, Cladouhos said. Meanwhile, Syringa staff continues to move forward with the goal of achieving the final HIMSS level, Stage 7, by 2015.
Back to: Winter 2014 Issue