EHR Configuration and Optimization: A Mayo Clinic MD Informaticist Shares Insights on the Journey | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

EHR Configuration and Optimization: A Mayo Clinic MD Informaticist Shares Insights on the Journey

April 6, 2018
by Mark Hagland
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The Mayo Clinic’s Karl Poterack, M.D., shared insights on EHR configuration and optimization with HIT Summit attendees

Even the most renowned patient care organizations face challenges when it comes to process change. That was a key takeaway from the presentation made by Karl Poterack, M.D., medical director, applied clinical informatics, in the Office of Information & Knowledge Management at the Mayo Clinic health system. The Phoenix-based Dr. Poterack spoke on Thursday afternoon at the Health IT Summit in San Francisco, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics, under the headline, “Provider Spotlight: How the Mayo Clinic is Advancing Applied Clinical Informatics to Improve Patient Care.”

Speaking to an audience of healthcare and healthcare IT leaders at the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco, Dr. Poterack walked his audience through some of the recent clinical informatics history at the Mayo Clinic health system, which encompasses 20 hospitals in five states, as well as 2,900 staffed beds, 130,000 annual hospital admissions, and 1.3 million annual clinic visits, 66,484 employees, 4,590 physicians and scientists, 2,434 residents, fellows and medical students, 59,460 allied health professionals, and a portfolio of $11-12 billion in gross revenue. He himself works out of the Phoenix region of the organization.

Poterack shared Mayo’s experiences around the process of unifying is electronic health record (EHR). As he noted, “We had three different EHRs across those 20 hospitals; in Rochester, we had an amalgamation of a bunch of different systems. The primary one was vended, while there were a number of home-built systems. To an extent, each EHR was attuned to different individual practices or regions,” he added.

“Why change? A strategic decision was made,” Dr. Poterack told his audience, “to converge workflows, order sets, onto best practices. For years, Mayo had operated a bit like a holding company, with regional groups. Florida had evolved to do things Florida’s way, Arizona to do things Arizona’s way, etc., etc., and there was a recognition that perhaps we could develop [more universal] best practices, and that, when patients with the same symptoms and issues come to different facilities, they should get the same care. So the decision was made to converge on best practices. And so converging on the same EHR, with the same order sets, the same build, was seen as a way to build convergence. And there was some time pressure, because the vendor support for the key vended system in Rochester was going to end. So we realized that this was a good time to get onto the same system.”


Karl Poterack, M.D.

Given that background situation, Poterack said, “We decided to undertake what’s been named the Plummer Project, after Henry Plummer, one of the six original physicians who established the Mayo Clinic. It was Dr. Plummer who really invented what we think of as the patient-centered record. At the time he did so, medical records were facility-focused, and entered into ledger books. There was no patient record centered on the patient; the record was centered on the clinic; and he basically flipped that. So because of his standing, we named our project of unifying our EHRs after him.”

That said, Poterack continued to say that, “Obviously, there were barriers we had to face. We’re a very distributed practice, with 20 hospitals in five states. We’ve got multiple stakeholders: neurosurgeons in Rochester, neurosurgeons in Jacksonville, anesthesiologists in Arizona, anesthesiologists in Eau Claire, and so on and so forth. And every doctor thinks he knows the best way to do things, and also that he’s in charge. So getting everybody on the same page and to converge on best practices, was a challenge.”

What’s more, Poterack said, “Cultural differences were a problem. Variations in practices were allowed, and that was cultural. And culture is influenced by geography.” Another major obstacle? “The ‘we can’t possibly change the way we do things’ argument. There can also be legitimate issues around resource differences.”

Process issues: past and present

One advantage that he and his colleagues had in making this change, Poterack said, is that the Mayo Clinic has a robust committee structure and a long-term track record for how to initiate changes. “We had a process for change, on which to build. What was our process? Essentially, it was to get together and talk about things. I will put our committee structure up against the structure of any organization.” And that, he said, has been a real strength.

In addition, Poterack said, “One of the things we’ve tried to bring into the discussion is informatics core content. There really is a science behind some of these things, there really are best practices. There’s core content to medical informatics; after all, it’s now a boarded medical specialty.”

Still, many things had to be worked out, and process had to be pursued in an organized, systemic way. For example, he noted, “One could ask the question, how many records can one user be allowed to open at one time? And a loud voice could say, ‘We should be able to have as many open as we want!’ But the reality is that there are actually published guidelines around this, there’s published evidence. So I’ve tried to regularly remind people that there is [a literature with evidence] behind this, that it’s not just all whim. And that’s true of many things, for example, good graphic design, which plays into this. There’s a science around how you lay out a screen, what you put on it, etc. And a lot of people are demanding things.”

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