The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) took a major step in its move towards a comprehensive electronic health record on January 28, 2009, when it became the first healthcare organization in the United States to launch the ALERT® Emergency Department Information System (EDIS).
The ALERT® EDIS program, from Reston, Virginia, based ALERT Life Science Computing, Inc., was launched in the SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital Emergency Room. It will allow SEARHC to utilize the new electronic health record system on a small scale before it begins launching the larger ALERT® OUTPATIENT program in all of its clinics this summer. ALERT® OUTPATIENT is scheduled to launch in Sitka and Juneau this June, with SEARHC's other clinics launching the program once the Sitka and Juneau sites Go Live.
SEARHC is in the middle of a two-year, $5.4-million systems transformation project to convert from paper records into a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR). When the systems transformation project is complete, by the end of 2009, SEARHC will be one of the first and largest tribal health systems in the country to have a comprehensive electronic health record. During 2008, SEARHC launched several standalone computer programs for its business, laboratory, pharmacy, radiology and other functions, and now ALERT® EDIS and OUTPATIENT bring all of those standalone programs into one comprehensive system.
"When complete, SEARHC's state-of-the-art system will allow us to better focus on increasing patient access to healthcare," SEARHC's President/CEO Roald Helgesen said.
"In the United States, SEARHC is the very first health organization to Go Live with ALERT®," said ALERT Vice President of Sales and Operations Jerry Colachino, who was in Sitka for the launch. "This allows SEARHC providers to have complete, seamless access to all parts of the patient's record."
"Going live in the US is the proof that the US market was demanding of our capability to respond to its needs. We are committed to contributing to healthcare reform in this country. Importantly, this project will create a precedent in North America for true paper-free clinical environments, management of clinical operations via workflow tools, and de facto implementation of a RHIO (Regional Health Information Organization)", said ALERT's founder and CEO, M. Jorge Guimarães, M.D., Ph.D.
ALERT Life Sciences Computing, Inc. has installations being completed at several other US facilities. Its electronic health record applications are also being used by several healthcare organizations in Portugal, Spain, Italy, England, Malaysia and Brazil.
ALERT Life Sciences Computing, Inc. plans to have staff on site in Sitka for 45 days to help providers and nurses become familiar with the system, during the transition from a paper-based to a paper-free environment. Other ALERT staff are on site to help customize the ALERT® EDIS and OUTPATIENT programs for SEARHC's needs.
"We knew ALERT® was a rapidly evolving product, and they would adapt it to meet our needs," said Peter Apathy, SEARHC Systems Transformation Project Manager. SEARHC is now likely to become a showcase site to host other healthcare organizations looking to implement their own electronic health record programs.
Making the switch to the electronic health records will enable SEARHC to provide better healthcare to its patients. SEARHC is a consortium of 18 remote Alaska Native communities scattered over an area about the size of Florida, including many communities that can only be reached by plane or boat. Many SEARHC patients see a medical provider in their home village before travelling to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka or the Ethel Lund Medical Center in Juneau for advanced treatment. With paper records, parts of the file were sometimes kept in different locations, delaying care or resulting in duplicate procedures.
The new comprehensive electronic health record will allow SEARHC medical providers to have immediate access to all parts of the patient's chart updated in real time. The new EHR program will help providers track lab results and medications, view x-rays and other imaging tests, and will provide chronic disease prevention and case management tools depending on a patient's personal health risks. When ALERT® is fully launched, patients will be able to create their own Personal Health Records (PHR), improving access to their healthcare information, if needed, from outside the SEARHC system.
"SEARHC's new electronic health record and systems transformation can serve as a model to other tribal organizations," Helgesen said. "SEARHC is fully documenting the system transformation process so lessons learned can be shared with other tribal and rural health organizations."