Phoebe approves assessment, converts to electronic records

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

ALBANY, Ga. -- After months of tracking down data and performing key leader interviews, the community needs assessment recently compiled by the staff at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital made it to the table for a vote Wednesday.

In the meantime, a progress report was given on the hospital's efforts to comply with mandates for the meaningful use of electric health records from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The hospital board approved the assessment and implementation plan at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, a few weeks ahead of the July 31 deadline. As part of a new requirement from the Internal Revenue Service, Phoebe had until the end of its current fiscal year -- which was the end of this month -- to complete a needs assessment and have it approved by the board.

Such an assessment is now expected to be done every three years to avoid a $50,000 fine.

In order to get the needs assessment completed, officials say an internal team gathered data and made contact with more than 30 key leaders -- as well as other individuals in the area -- from November 2011 onward with the goal of defining priorities that need to be addressed in Phoebe's primary coverage area. Among the priorities identified included maternal and child health, mental health and substance abuse, obesity and related acute and chronic diseases as well as health literacy, promotion and awareness.

Per the implementation plan, the grant-funding arm of Phoebe's community benefits committee -- Phoebe Community Visions -- will begin to narrow the focus of its grant-giving purposes to align directly with the needs outlined in the assessment. These grants, Phoebe officials say, will be distributed in cycles to various community agencies that aim to address the region's health-related needs, officials have said.

The needs assessment and implementation plan is now on the the hospital's home page,, www.phoebeputney.com, under the "Building Healthy Communities" tab.

Officials say the decision to switch to a formal electronic health records process, known as computerized provider order entry, was made roughly six years ago -- prior to the mandate.

"We have been in electronic records in one sort or another for a couple of decades," said Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe.

Getting doctors adjusted to going from handwritten patient records to electronic records has been one of the biggest challenges the hospital has had to undergo in the process of converting to the new system -- which will likely enhance the patient care process by eliminating non-essential steps and decreasing error, Patten said. It is designed to constantly provide real-time patient data from anywhere with Internet access. There is less of a need to interpret a doctor's handwriting, decreasing potential for dosage errors, and it allows for more complete information with a quicker turn-around time.

It also allows for storage of relevant data in one location, in turn allowing for alerts to pop up on a patient's file regarding potentially life-threatening drug allergies and interactions, officials say.

Over time, doctors were gradually brought onto the system. Staff training started several months ago, with proficiency to be expected at the first of this month. Currently, 71.5 percent of orders placed at the hospital for the inpatient adult population are entered through the new system, officials say.

"I wish we could say it is like flipping on a switch, but it's not," said Dr. Steve Kitchen, president of Phoebe's medical staff. "It is really a labor intensive process.

"...From a patient safety standpoint, the evidence is compelling."