InContext Magazine

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Bringing disparate patient data into one view

Data in disparate systems is a roadblock to having the information you need when you need it. ECM gives you more visibility to information from the back office to clinical.

In the age of paperless, streamlined solutions, a number of hospitals still operate on disparate departmental systems throughout their clinical and back office departments. Clinicians and staff members alike are burdened by information that resides outside of the electronic medical record (EMR).

Left with clinical and back office departments that operate completely independently from each other, hospitals deal with photos, payment records, correspondence and diagnostic results that are inaccessible from the EMR, even though the expectation for a “one patient, one record” level of care continues to increase every year. This disparate patient view can impact patient care and render healthcare professionals less productive.

Meghan DeMarse, Healthcare Solutions Manager at Perceptive Software, says healthcare professionals know that the comprehensive patient record is not solely comprised of discrete data points. “Non-discrete, unstructured data makes up a critical portion of a patient’s story and must be made available to clinicians for them to provide superior care,” she said.

Patients expect care providers to access their records quickly and easily, whenever they need them, wherever they are. In many hospital systems, this reality is closer than it may appear. Using the right ECM application across the entire organization is a viable, resource-effective way to bridge the gap between the health information system and the processes and content the EMR doesn’t manage.

“Even the most comprehensive and advanced EMR systems rely on enterprise content management (ECM) to help manage this content,” DeMarse added.

Understanding the benefits of ECM for the clinical space

Leveraging ECM to handle clinical information outside an EMR, a hospital system can optimize its EMR investment, consolidate patient information, and work to eliminate functionality differences that exist between multiple disparate systems. In the clinical space, the right ECM solution will:

• Store and manage unstructured data regardless of the file type (.jpg, .doc, .tiff and .wav, to name a few)
• Increase electronic access to information (like photos, consent forms and advance directives) that is typically stored in paper formats, even in environments where EHR usage is high
• Assist in decision making by providing clinicians a view to all patient information within the context they need, and in an application they’re familiar with
• Create a single document repository with seamless integration to other applications allowing consolidation of systems across the organization for increased efficiency and simpler processes
• Present vital content that resides outside the EHR or other HIS in one holistic view so staff and clinicians can focus on delivering a better patient experience

“While EMR systems provide the bulk of the patient information, the complete patient record cannot be accomplished without an ECM solution filling the gaps outside the view of the EMR. Enterprise solutions effectively ‘close the loop’ on providing access to all of the patient’s data in a single record,” said Jon Hamdorf, a Healthcare Solution Marketing Manager at Perceptive Software, who brings more than a dozen years of healthcare technology and EHR implementation experience.

As the benefits and ease of an expanded ECM system become increasingly apparent, hospital systems around the world are taking advantage of the opportunity to save resources and pull their disparate systems together.

Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, Mo., is one such convert. “ECM has completely eliminated paper charts for every patient in the hospital and made all the information available to physicians when they need it, wherever they are,” said CIO Denni McColm.

For those that haven’t yet achieved a single patient view, quiet concerns over seamless integration, efficacy and scalability may be holding them back unnecessarily.

In her role as an ECM healthcare solutions manager, DeMarse often fields questions about ECM’s role throughout the healthcare enterprise. “People question whether ECM can truly be as effective in accounts payable as it can in HR, in medical records, and in patient accounting” she said. “It can be difficult for people to understand how one product can truly meet needs in such disparate areas if they're not familiar with the ECM landscape. ECM solves the same problem across the healthcare enterprise—bringing unstructured content into the context of the EMR or other enterprise application. Only the content is different.”

DeMarse also hears questions about scalability. “We talk to customers who have been using the same systems for years. One customer had approximately 350 million pages to convert from a legacy platform. Clearly, the conversion process was intimidating.” 

Fortunately, ECM implementation can be fast and stress-free according to David Tilley, network administrator at Citizens Memorial. “Our ECM software system was implemented in one week, and we were using it the following week.”

Though Citizens Memorial Hospital originally selected their ECM solution for use in their medical records department, stakeholders quickly realized the application would be even more valuable hospital-wide.

“It has had a positive impact on patient care,” said McColm. “A physician can view an EKG and make an immediate diagnosis from his office 40 miles away from the hospital.”

Beyond ECM’s evident cost, consolidation and care benefits, Meaningful Use directives put in place by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) are pushing every hospital to have an EHR solution. Meanwhile, experts believe hospitals won’t have the capability to reach HIMSS Level 7 certification without an ECM solution. Enterprise content management solutions bridge the gap between the EHR and the unstructured content that lives outside that system, leading hospitals toward the shared goal of a complete, accurate single patient record accessed through the EMR system.