UC San Francisco moving to electronic medical records 

Switching from paper to electronic medical records is costing UC San Francisco Medical Center $150 million, but university officials say the change will improve efficiency and patient safety in the long run.

UCSF is one of thousands of health care providers throughout the nation making the switch. The conversion could make the hospital eligible for some of the $27 billion in stimulus money promised by the federal government if such systems are in place by July 2012.

Converting from decades-old paper records to electronic filings, however, is no easy task. By the time implementation is completed at UCSF, the project will have taken nearly three years with a final cost estimated at $150 million, which will be paid for by the hospital’s reserves. Hospital fees will not rise as a result of the project.

“The whole concept is to have a system that talks to itself and connects a bunch of other systems together,” said Ken Jones, chief operating officer for UCSF.

UCSF was originally expected to switch files only for patients admitted to the hospital, which would have cost $50 million, but hospital officials thought physicians and patients would benefit sooner if all records were converted now.

The system, known as APeX, is an integrated electronic medical records system that allows doctors in any of UCSF’s 150 clinics, the emergency room and the hospital itself to look at and add to a patient’s record.

“Whether a doctor took care of you 10 minutes ago in the hospital, two weeks ago at a clinic or this second in the ER, they’ll have up-to-date information,” Jones said. “It’s more efficient and less room for error.”

Other hospitals in the region have had a similar system in place for years. Kaiser Permanente, for instance, started installing an electronic medical records system for its 36 hospitals and 431 medical offices nationwide in 2003 at a cost of $157 million.

San Francisco General Hospital began switching to electronic medical records in 2000. Chief Operations Officer Roland Pickens said the hospital will connect all 13 clinics and the hospital via an electronic medical records system beginning in August. The conversion will take two years to complete. Pickens said the hospital and Public Health Department should receive $8.5 million to make the switch.

In San Mateo County, the medical center first installed electronic medical records in 2005 in the emergency room. By 2009, 11 clinics throughout the county had access to the electronic system, at a cost of $2.4 million.

Dr. Chester Kunnappilly, the medical director in San Mateo County, said the tool is incredibly helpful.

“It eliminates legibility issues and provides access to so many,” he said. “It also provides quality and efficiency in care.”

Kunnappilly said the county will complete its conversion of records by December 2012 with an inpatient system that will link to the one already installed in the emergency room and the clinics.

Philip Katzenberger of San Francisco General Hospital said the conversion of records throughout the country will allow any hospital to share and see information for a patient no matter where they are treated.



Going digital

A by-the-numbers comparison of electronic medical record conversion:   

UCSF 1,200 doctors 1 $150.0 million
S.F. Public Health Dept. 1 $8.5 million
San Mateo County 1 $2.4 million
Kaiser Permanente 431 offices 36 $4 billion

$27 billion is available through stimulus funds to health care facilities to make the switch.

Source: UCSF, San Francisco General Hospital, San Mateo County Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente

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