Digital files at University Hospital will free up space, funds

The switch to electronic records will allow area facilities, such as University Hospital and MCG, to exchange information about patients.

The move to electronic records is freeing up valuable real estate in University Hospital, allowing it to consolidate some services. It is also providing a bridge for collaboration between University and nearby Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

From a room stuffed with row upon row of bulging files, Health Information Services now looks long and wide and empty. University's board voted Thursday to provide $250,000 to renovate the space and buy new furnishings that will allow it to consolidate several services into one place.

Among other things it would save University about $50,000 in rent it is paying to house one department in another building, said George Ann Phillips, the administrative director of revenue cycle. The move to electronic records has also helped to save on paper costs and eliminated the need for the equivalent of 15 full-time employees, she said.

It is also the basis of a new partnership among Augusta hospitals and between University and MCG.

The two are meeting today to continue to work on details of the Augusta Metro Health Information Exchange, which will eventually allow the hospitals to share electronic records and other health information.

While the information exchange is required by federal stimulus legislation, collaborating is also the right thing to do, said Jim Davis, the CEO of University Health Care System.

"It's a very complex deal but we think, joining forces, we can get it done," he said.

It would also address the fact that patients and doctors don't use just one facility, said Sandra I. McVicker, the interim CEO of MCG Health Inc., which runs the health system.

"We do realize, certainly, that patients in this area go from hospital to hospital," she said. "And it would be so much better for the patients, as well as the physicians and the people trying to take care of these patients if we had accessibility to records and specific kinds of health information."

The two are also working together on a community needs assessment required by the recently passed health care reform act, which also seems to be a good fit, Davis said.

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