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3/10/2010
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Kaiser Permanente Finishes EMR Rollout

The health insurer will continue to tweak its electronic medical records system to comply with the federal government's upcoming meaningful use criteria.

Kaiser Permanente recently completed the largest civilian roll out of e-medical records systems in the United States. But the health insurer's work will continue to perfect the systems, especially for compliance with the federal government's meaningful use criteria once those regulations are finalized, said a company official.

Last week, Kaiser Permanente announced it had finished the final phase of its multiyear rollout of the KP HealthConnect EMR system to all its medical practice offices and hospitals in the eight regions the health plan serves in the United States, including nine states and Washington D.C.

KP HealthConnect, which is based on software from Epic, allows thousands of Kaiser Permanente clinicians in outpatient and inpatient settings to securely record, access, and share data about the health of 8.6 million patients covered by Kaiser Permanente's health plans. Kaiser Permanente's patients also have Web-based access to their health information.

Outside of e-medical record systems used by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, the rollout by Kaiser Permanente is believed to be the largest digitized medical record system in use by clinicians.

The EMR rollout, which started more than a decade ago, has had its hiccups along the way, including outages that prevented some doctors from accessing patients' records. Nonetheless, overall the system has been embraced by doctors, despite the "litany of things" some physicians don't like, said Dr. Andrew M. Wiesenthal, a former physician in KP's Colorado region and associate executive director at the Permanente Federation.

Even when doctors have complaints about features or functions, "when you ask them if they want to go back [to paper]," the answer is a resounding, "No," he said in an interview with InformationWeek. That's because the system is helping to improve the efficiency of processes, and most importantly boost quality of patient care through better coordination of care, chronic disease management, and preventative care.

Still, even though Kaiser Permanente is much further ahead in its use of EMRs than most healthcare providers, there's still more work to come, said Wiesenthal. The organization will likely need to make some tweaks and adjustments to ensure it complies with all the anticipated meaningful use criteria for eligibility for federal HITECH stimulus rewards.

While KP HealthConnect is helping the organization meet healthcare improvement goals, the main issues now are on making sure the systems can "get at the data" needed for meaningful use reporting to the federal government. Complicating that is the fact that the final meaningful use rules won't likely be published by the feds till May or June, Wiesenthal said. Those exact requirements and rules for reporting "are still fuzzy," he said.

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