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Virtua moving forward on digital medical records

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Just days after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the second round of rules for meaningful use of electronic health records, the Virtua Health Inc., system announced it has reached several milestones in adapting its information technology for health care reform.

The Virtua system, which now has three acute-care hospitals and an additional surgical hospital in South Jersey, has been working with Siemens Healthcare to implement many of the electronic health record recommendations made by the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The Siemens system, called Soarian Clinicals, has been in the works for four years, and implemented in phases over the past year and a half.

Virtua is now automating data collection of vital signs and importing that information into digital patient records, and physicians at all four locations are entering clinical orders electronically. By computerizing records, it's hoped orders will be less likely to be misunderstood, increasing efficiency and patient safety.

Virtua has also joined the ranks of only 20 percent of the U.S. hospital systems, according to a report by HIMSS Analytics, which have instituted a "closed-loop" medication administration process. The process uses electronic prescribing and barcode checking to make sure patients are getting the correct medication, and that information travels with the patient through the health care system. The program also notifies providers of any drug reactions or allergies patients may have before submitting electronic prescriptions.

Alfred Campanella, executive vice president of strategic business growth and analytics for the system, said the remaining gaps that need to be filled in with the Siemens rollout include getting physicians to enter their notes, currently scanned into a companion program, into the system directly, which will begin in September.

Virtua also is rolling out a complimentary patient health record program, in which patients can access their health records electronically, before the end of August.

According to CMS, Virtua has already hit at least four of the 16 core objectives for meaningful use that will be required beginning in 2014 in order to receive electronic record incentive funds. Virtua also has met one of three "menu" objectives, selected from a list of six, which hospitals must meet under the second round of rules.

New Jersey has been near the forefront of the EHR implementation movement, including using the state's higher education infrastructure to help providers in underserved areas upgrade their technology. But there is concern amongst private practitioners that the cost of implementing CMS' recommendations will put them out of business.

Eligible professionals must meet 17 core objectives and report on three additional menu objectives in order to remain eligible for funding.

Campanella said Virtua has been tracking its stage one compliance, and is regularly exceeding the stage one requirements and meeting many of the stage two rules.

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