The Jewish Association on Aging is beginning the long, expensive — but necessary — process of converting its medical records to an electronic format.
In a major decision that will relegate its handwritten records to history, the JAA board of trustees has allocated $500,000 from its endowment as a down payment on a process that could last three to five years and cost as much as $1-2 million, including training, when the job is done.
But it’s a job that must be done, according to JAA President and CEO Debbie Winn-Horvitz.
“We’re raising funds for purchasing of electronic medical records,” she said. “We’re also going through the selection process [for a vendor] because we cannot wait. We have to move forward with implementation of electronic medical records.”
“The benefits are very clear and very significant,” Winn-Horvitz added. “There’s no way we can continue operating without an electronic medical record system in place; I can’t underestimate how significant this is.”
The agency is already reviewing bids from two prospective vendors, Winn-Horvitz said, and she expects to have one selected by Jan. 1, 2014.
Implementation of the new system is expected to begin by July 1, 2014. It will be installed in stages or “modules,” which cover records for specific aspects of the JAA operation, such as back office, hospice or home care.
During the process, JAA is receiving advice and assistance from the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, a regional collaborative of medical, business and civic leaders that addresses health care safety and quality improvements.
PRHI is offering “subsidized consultation,” according to Dr. Bruce Block, its chief learning and medical informatics officer.
The federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act — also known as the HITECH Act — is paying for the PRHI’s services.
Earlier this year, Winn-Horvitz and Don Shulman, CEO of the National Association of Jewish Aging Services, went to Washington to lobby for changes to the act, which heretofore did not allow for funding to long-term care providers for assistance in implementing electronic medical records.
Since then, Block was able to arrange for subsidized consultation, though he noted the law has not been changed.
“We’re a pilot project,” he said.
Winn-Horvitz said no federal dollars would be used to actually purchase the system.
“We have to purchase the product,” she said. “We have to hire the staff and train our employees. PRHI offers advice and support to help implement the records.”
JAA will approach community foundations and individuals, soliciting matching funds for the half-million dollars its board has already provided.
“The end result will be a fully integrated electronic medical record [system] where someone who moves throughout our continuum, all their relevant medical information will pass along with them.”
In addition, “we’ll be able to share information with our hospital partners, which is very important, and because of efficiencies built into the system, our staff will spend less time handwriting and documenting information and spending more time at bedside or face to face with our residents.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)