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Health department moves ahead with update of records system

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Pitt County Public Health Director Dr. John Morrow updated the county Board of Health members Tuesday on the progress of the department's new electronic medical records system.

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By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A state-of-the-art electronic medical records system that will allow the Pitt County Health Department to more efficiently gather, store and share information should be up and running by the end of the year, officials said.

The Epic Electronic Record System is an electronic information system that allows integration of medical records among participating health systems. Dr. John Morrow told Board of Health members Tuesday that it is currently used by Vidant Health and East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine among other systems in the state and country.

“We can look at UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest and even in hospitals in California,” Morrow said. “It really gives us a huge advantage in accessing information. The agency walked through and looked at our work flow, patient flow, how patients are registered and all of our equipment. We know we will have to replace some of our computers.”

From a clinical standpoint, the system will allow the health department to tailor its platform to its needs and streamline its internal records management system. Using inefficient paper records, staff must take time to search files when seeing patients or when they need to provide information to other medical providers, Morrow said.

The Epic system will allow them to quickly bring in data from any source and more efficiently communicate with providers elsewhere. Meetings currently are underway between health department staff and those at Vidant Medical Center, he said.

The department is in a 60-day building phase before it can go live with its new records system, Morrow said. Although there is no announced jumpoff date, Morrow said he hopes they can make the switch sometime during the holiday season. 

“We’re trying to streamline our processes and build in as few customizations as possible, because that really slows things down, having to perform many more clicks while going through a patient’s chart,” he said. “We’re not intending to simply electrify our old paper record system because that is extremely inefficient and slows patient care down. We’re trying to invent a new wheel.” 

Morrow said the original plan was to purchase the system earlier this year when the department received approval from the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to utilize reserve funding for the purchase. Epic then announced it was launching a new platform Aug. 1, so officials decided to wait so employees didn't have to go through two sets of training.

The system will cost Pitt County $238,000, of which $182,000 is the upfront acquisition cost and $56,000 is the anticipated first-year cost of maintaining the system, said John Reed, the department's budget officer. The money is coming from the health department's cash reserves, Morrow said.

The department budgeted $884,000 for reserve funding in current fiscal year budget and did not have to spend any of that money. The department also added about $400,000 in supplemental restricted Medicaid payments to the reserves, he said.

In other Health Department matters:

• The health board unanimously approved a motion to place a public announcement in The Daily Reflector that it will consider at its Oct. 10 meeting repeal of the temporary rabies management rule it enacted last fall. The rule was made in accordance with guidelines issued by the National Association of Veterinarians to ease postexposure rabies-related requirements on dog and cat owners whose pets have bitten people. The move was made at the county level before the state Legislature had enacted its statute amendment. With the state rule in place on Oct. 1, the board will have to repeal the local rule because it is less strict than the new state law, Morrow said.

• The health department’s diversity policy was unanimously amended to reflect that new employees now will receive cultural diversity training through the Pitt County government’s new employee orientation training within two weeks of their start date, Amy Hattem, the department’s health education director, said. Employees will participate in the training at least once every three years, according to the policy change.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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