Steve & MarciaThe delivery of health care services is undergoing a tremendous digital evolution, thanks to increasing adoption of electronic medical record systems. Many experts believe this digital way of maintaining patient records will lead to significant cost savings, decreases in medical errors and improvements in health.

To learn more, Smart Business spoke with Marcia Manker, the CEO of Orange Coast Medical Center, and Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills.

Can you describe electronic medical records?

Bulky patient charts holding countless pieces of information and handwritten physicians orders are becoming a thing of the past. In their place are electronic medical records that transport patient information in real time with the click of a button.

An electronic medical record, or what we call EMR, stores your health history and medical information in an electronic, instead of a paper, format. Using a highly secure network, our physicians, nurses and other clinical staff can enter needed patient information, including your doctors’ orders, prescriptions and other important items, directly into a computer.

What are the benefits?

It is widely believed that the nationwide adoption of EMR systems will lead to major health care savings, reduce medical errors and improve health. Patient information — like diagnoses, treatments, test results, imaging and medical history — is immediately accessible to clinicians providing your care, even from multiple locations. Our health care professionals can now complete the same tasks in a fraction of the time with more time to interact with patients.

EMRs eliminate the age-old challenge of deciphering someone else’s handwriting. Physicians now enter their orders directly into the computer system — virtually eliminating transcription errors and dramatically improving turnaround time. As an added safety measure, when a physician enters a prescription order, for example, the system will automatically check for any adverse drug interactions or allergies and immediately alert the physician if any are found. Evidence-based clinical care guidelines are also integrated into the system, providing valuable decision-support for physicians at their fingertips.

What’s the progress at MemorialCare Health System?

Connectivity with our patients and our physicians is a high priority and one that will keep MemorialCare in the forefront of patient care for years to come. As an early adopter of EMRs, MemorialCare has invested significant capital and human resources in this effort.

All three of MemorialCare Health System’s Orange County hospital facilities have comprehensive EMR systems. And we have seen significant improvements in quality, clinical outcomes, safety and satisfaction for patients; better staff efficiency, accuracy and productivity; and stronger engagement and satisfaction among our physicians who can easily retrieve complete patient information.

Thanks to EMRs, less than 1 percent of physician orders are hand-written, thus eliminating nearly all transcription errors and saving millions of dollars a year in paper and duplicate work. Turnaround time for initial physician orders of ‘stat’ medications has been slashed from 41 minutes before EMRs to 6 minutes. The reduced costs associated with EMRs have the potential to save the health care delivery system millions of dollars. And a million fewer sheets of paper copied each month makes us a greener health system.

In addition to the efficiencies and safety benefits for patients, our early adoption links us with an EMR and user community as one of a small percentage of health care organizations nationwide that meets all federally required meaningful use standards for this year.

How are physician and outpatient programs connected?

While many hospitals and health systems are in the preliminary stages of installing EMRs, MemorialCare already demonstrates the ability to implement inpatient and outpatient systems that connect seamlessly.

The government support of doctors and outpatient programs will likely speed adoption. MemorialCare helps affiliated physicians implement an EMR called myMemorialCare in their practices. Other initiatives ensure physicians with or without an EMR system can easily access their patients’ records. Outpatient records are also available to hospital staff during a patient’s admission. Inpatient and outpatient EMRs can combine for a true electronic continuum of care.

In what ways can businesses learn more?

Consider partnering with your health care providers electronically to better manage the health of employees and their families rather than only managing sickness. Offer educational programs for employees as well as their families. Encourage legislative efforts that create standards for sharing data among health care providers. Encourage government, foundations and other groups to financially support health information technology acquisition and implementation.

While we at MemorialCare Health System have made tremendous progress in this arena, we must partner with all of you to ensure patient technologies move from access for the few to a necessity for all sectors of the health care industry.

Marcia Manker is the CEO of Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills.