Beyond the EHR: Sentara Healthcare’s IT Strategy

Sentara Healthcare, based in Norfolk, Va., has reached HIMSS Analytics Stage 7 for its electronic health record system implementation and is currently in the top 1 percent in the country for EHR adoption, said Bertram Reese, the system’s senior vice president and CIO.

During a Nov. 14 session at Becker’s Hospital Review Annual CEO Strategy Roundtable in Chicago, Mr. Reese explained the benefits Sentara has reaped from its EHR, and how the EHR is only the beginning of the health system’s IT strategy.

Sentara has deployed Epic’s EHR system across seven sites. The total ownership cost for the health system is $237 million, consisting of $67 million in capital costs and $170 million in operating costs (network maintenance, staff training, etc.). During the initial installation, Mr. Reese’s department was spending about $3.7 million per month running the former system while paying to install the Epic system.reese

However, Mr. Reese projects the EHR will save Sentara an estimated $53 million per year. He sees these savings coming from decreased lengths of stay, increased efficiency within the hospital and other process improvements. The successful adoption of the EHR also puts Sentara in line for about $70 million in meaningful use incentives, said Mr. Reese. The health system has also seen many quality improvements following the implementation, including nurses spending more time at patients’ bedsides and improving mortality rates.

However, to Mr. Reese, the implementation of the EHR is “only the start of the game.” The next step is being able to use the data collected by the EHR to improve care delivery. In the near future, the best healthcare providers will be the ones who can “make data actionable the quickest,” he said.

To this end, Sentara has several initiatives underway. For example, the health system’s computers currently have a ‘smart’ screen saver displaying color-coded patient room numbers to help nurses better monitor patients’ conditions. The screen saver system monitors five main indicators of patient health, including vitals and laboratory reports. If three of the five health measures start trending downwards, the room number changes from green to yellow. If all five are trending down, the room number is displayed in red. “It helps the nurses see who might be in trouble, even if none of the health measures by themselves would have triggered an alarm,” said Mr. Reese.

The next step in Sentara’s strategy is to use information available in the EHR to engage with patients through mobile devices. An app currently in development aims to provide patients with comprehensive information and services related to their healthcare. With the app, patients could check scheduled procedures, connect with a provider, watch educational videos related to their condition or order relevant medical supplies.

With the app, Mr. Reese hopes to replicate the “stickiness” of non-healthcare companies like Amazon or Netflix, who use convenience to retain customers.

Customer engagement like this is how healthcare organizations will retain customers in the future, said Mr. Reese. “And as a CIO, it’s my job to live in the future and bring the company to me."

More Articles on Hospital IT Strategies:

The Heart of the Matter: How mHealth Benefits the Cardiology Service Line
Mercy Partners With Philips to Expand Telehealth Services
11 Statistics on EMR Costs at Community Hospitals 

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