When Bruce Wilson had pain that could have been a pulmonary embolism in November, he was able to use the MyChart app on his iPod Touch to confirm his CT appointment on his way to University Hospital.
“Anywhere you can access with a smartphone, it would be there,” said Wilson, 63, of North Augusta.
He is one of 16,000 who use University and affiliated physician practices through a secure patient portal in the Epic electronic medical record system. A regional collaboration of hospitals and physician practices is looking to create even greater collaboration between facilities in Augusta and providers in Macon to allow more sharing of records, one executive said.
MyChart went live with University in December 2012, said Gwen Mann, the systems analyst responsible for the program. Through it, patients can request and in some places schedule their own appointments, review medications, request refills and see lab results. And they can do it on their own schedule, she said.
“It’s not a 9-to-5 world anymore for anyone,” Mann said. “Like anything else, as technology progresses, why would your health care information not be part of that availability?”
Dr. Vanessa Stewart, an internal medicine physician with University Physicians – Primary Care, said her patients use the program a lot, even the elderly ones.
“It allows them to be a little bit more proactive and involved in their medical care, which I think they enjoy and it is helpful for us as well,” she said.
The system has a proxy function that allows the patient to give someone else access to their information, which is helpful for those looking after family members, Mann said.
“It’s a good way for them to keep track of their parents’ care and keep track of their refills and that kind of thing without having to come to every single appointment if they can’t make it,” Stewart said.
It also frees up some physician and office staff time. Stewart said she can post routine lab results to MyChart with notes for the patient instead of writing a letter or playing phone tag with a patient.
Patients send her messages all day, and some of the problems she can handle by e-mail. If someone has what sounds like a cold or run-of-the-mill viral infection for a couple of days without high fever, Stewart said she might send instructions for over-the-counter care but with warning signs about when the patient should seek care.
“It gives them direct contact with me, which doesn’t always happen by phone,” Steward said.
The Epic system is in place in about 300 hospitals and physician groups nationwide, and if a patient went to another of those facilities they should be able to call up the MyChart information, Mann said.
Sharing such information has been pushed by the federal government, which through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $19 billion to help hospitals and providers get onto electronic health records that could be exchanged between facilities. That set off many regional collaborations in Georgia, such as the one between Georgia Regents Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia called the Georgia Regional Academic Community Health Information Exchange, or GRACHIE.
That collaboration is looking to add 17 hospitals, physician practices and federally qualified health centers, but executive director Tara Cramer said she could not disclose who they are yet. Similar regional efforts are underway in Savannah, Gainesville, south Georgia and west Georgia. Many are concentrating on a regional approach because that is the most useful to the people in the network, Cramer said.
“In order for them to get value, we’ve got to get more local participation,” she said. “We are talking to all of the folks in Augusta and we are talking to most of the physician practices. But at the end of the day it becomes a financial decision for people. They have to decide, at what point do you budget that.”
Financial penalties for not having a system that could exchange information were set to start this year, but that has been pushed back to later in the year or even to 2015 in some cases, which has “slowed down the progress,” Cramer said. The state of Georgia has also created a platform for a statewide network, and “there’s been significant progress in the last several months to do that,” she said.
The GRACHIE system is live in Augusta and Macon hospitals and is already paying dividends in terms of sharing information, Cramer said.
“The emergency room physicians are loving it,” she said. “It’s amazing, just between those two places, they find common ground with patients. This rural area between Macon and Augusta really flows back and forth.”
Creating a larger network will allow physicians to provide better care for patients, Cramer said.
“It gives the physician a really great picture of what is going on, a complete picture of the patient,” she said.