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One-on-One with Florence Chang, SVP & CIO, MultiCare Health System

December 1, 2009
by root
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As MultiCare rolls out more applications and expands its award-winning EHR system, data storage is becoming a high priority.

Based in Tacoma, Wash., MultiCare Health System is an 818-bed organization made up of four hospitals - Allenmore Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and Tacoma General Hospital - as well as primary care and urgent care clinics, multispecialty centers, and hospice and home health services. The health system serves patients at 93 locations in Pierce, South King, Kitsap and Thurston. Recently, HCI Associate Managing Editor Kate Huvane Gamble spoke with Senior Vice President and CIO Florence Chang about how IT is moving the organization forward, and how her data management strategy is evolving.

We've laid a foundation, and the most important piece now is how you get the data out of the system and become much more proactive to help our physicians take care of patients.

Florence chang

Florence Chang

KG: MultiCare received the 2009 HIMSS Organizational Davies Award for the MultiCare Connect EMR. Your organization began implementing the system in the clinics about a decade ago - what's the status now?

FC: MultiCare is a four-hospital system; the fourth hospital was affiliated with us about three years ago. Currently, all three of the original hospitals are up and running with the EHR, together with all our clinics. The fourth hospital will be up and running by May 1, 2010. We're in the process of changing the existing system to the Epic system.

KG: Do you think it was beneficial to implement EHRs in the clinics and have that in place before going live in the hospitals?

FC: Absolutely, because of two things. Number one, getting the clinic up and running with the electronic record is the best way to introduce technology. You're not in the acute care setting, which is a much more critical, 24/7 type of environment, and I think that's a great way to do it. And number two, if you look at the maturity of the software, whether it's Cerner, Epic, Meditech - they all started with more of the clinic modules first. So even from a software technology perspective, the clinic module is much more mature than a hospital system. The hospital systems, for any of those major vendors, really did not become a mature product until about eight to nine years ago. And for us, it was great because by the time we came up with the hospitals, we had over 10 years of records in our system already. We have 1.5 million patients in our database right now.

KG: How are you utilizing all that data? Are you doing data mining?

FC: We're using the data to improve decision support and to better manage our chronic disease patients. And the way I see it, what we've done is just the beginning. We've laid a foundation, and the most important piece now is how you get the data out of the system and become much more proactive to help our physicians take care of patients. Because of the intelligence of the technologies that we have in place, this whole decision support piece becomes probably the most important component of the EHR system. We want to make the EHR system not just transactional, but much more dynamic, where the data becomes a real-time decision factor for the clinicians.

We use data mining to help manage our chronic disease patients. We have about 8,000 patients with diabetes, and we monitor those patients with the data we have to make sure they do things like get regular check-ups. Every provider has a report to tell them how compliant their patient is, and with the MyChart portal, patients can enter their glucose monitoring data from home and download it to us.

KG: What other systems do you have in place? Do you have CPOE?

FC: We do. We went live with CPOE in October of last year, and I'm so proud of our physicians. The CPOE rate across the nation is only 7 percent, according to Leapfrog data released in April, but within our organization, we have 80 percent of our docs entering orders directly into the system. That's amazing.

KG: How do you think your organization was able to achieve such high adoption ratings?

FC: By engaging the doctors from the very beginning. We put in place a very comprehensive physician adoption methodology where we involved the physicians in helping us build the order sets. And we did a lot of road shows, going into the community to show them the product, asking them for their input, and providing a lot of training and support.

KG: So with all of these IT systems in place, has your strategy changed in terms of being able to store and retrieve data?

FC: Absolutely. As part of our efforts with the EHR, we're also looking at our data strategy, and more importantly, our disaster recovery and business continuity strategy. Because now, we're dealing with mission critical data. So from the very beginning, it's been about our overall strategy, not just about implementing an EHR.

I tell my CTO, I'm looking five years ahead - you need to look much further than that because the infrastructure needs to be able to support the system for at least a minimum of five to 10 years.