SITKA - The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) took a major step in its move toward a comprehensive electronic health record on Jan. 28, when SEARHC launched the ALERT Emergency Department Information System software program.
The ALERT EDIS program, from ALERT Life Science Computing, Inc., of Reston, Va., was launched in the SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital Emergency Room. It will allow SEARHC to use the new electronic health record system on a small scale before implementing the ALERT OUTPATIENT program in all of its facilities starting this summer. ALERT OUTPATIENT is scheduled to launch in Sitka and Juneau this July, with SEARHC's other clinics going live shortly thereafter.
SEARHC is in the middle of a two-year, $5.4-million systems transformation project to convert from paper records to a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR). When the project is complete in 2010, 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. ALERT EDIS and OUTPATIENT will 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 health care," SEARHC 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. Once ALERT EDIS and OUTPATIENT are fully implemented, "this allows SEARHC providers to have complete, seamless access to all parts of the patient's record."
ALERT Life Sciences Computing, Inc., is new to the U.S. market, but its electronic health record programs are being used by hundreds of health care organizations in Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil and Malaysia. ALERT has contracts or installations being completed at several other U.S. facilities.
ALERT plans to have staff on site in Sitka for 45 days to help providers and nurses become familiar with the system, for what Colachino called a "gentle transition." Other ALERT staff are on site to help customize the ALERT EDIS and OUTPATIENT programs for SEARHC's needs. SEARHC will be a showcase site for ALERT and will host other health care organizations looking to implement their own electronic health record programs.
Making the switch to the electronic health records will enable SEARHC to provide better health care 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 only can be reached by plane or boat. Many SEARHC patients see a medical provider in their home village, then need to travel to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka or the Ethel Lund Medical Center in Juneau for advanced treatment. With paper records being used in all of SEARHC's locations, parts of a patient's file sometimes were in different locations (for example, notes from a provider visit in Angoon, a lab result in Juneau, an x-ray in Sitka).
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, will let them 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. The program also is being adapted for behavioral health needs, and when fully launched patients will be able to create their own personal health records they can take with them if they ever need to travel or access health care outside the SEARHC system.