Change can sometimes be difficult and yet change can result in many positive outcomes, for businesses, individuals, and organizations. Several pregnancy centers around the country are exploring and implementing electronic medical records into their operations, and staff at those facilities have high hopes for using such systems.
“We believe this will add more efficiency to our current system and (make us) more relevant with the patients that we see,” said Christina Colter, Center Director at ABC Women's Clinic in Georgia.
Terry Winship, CEO at True Care Women's Resource Center in Wyoming, agreed.
“Anything that increases our credibility with our target audience is a plus. If we can stand out as more professional and up-to-date than the abortion clinics, that is a good thing,” she said.
Both ABC and True Care recently sent staff to a training on electronic medical records.
“We are very excited to go “live' (with an electronic system),” said Colter. “It's very user friendly. Everything is right there at your fingertips and is easily adaptable…”
There are many benefits to moving to an electronic system, according to Jill Miller, Nurse Manager at ABC, who attended the training.
“It will lessen the time spent charting and (provide) quicker turn around with our doctors – both are huge advantages,” she stated.
Colter agreed that electronic medical records offer benefits to pregnancy centers and the women they serve.
“There is no shuffling papers, it is more professional, and it's common to what women are used to seeing in a medical office now,” she stated. “We'll save space by not having charts/shelves in the office. One of the biggest pros is having real time numbers at your fingertips. It also lessens the chance of recording errors.”
Susan Dammann, RN, Medical Specialist at Heartbeat International, agreed that there are numerous benefits to using electronic health records.
“They are usually better organized than paper records, eliminate illegible handwriting, and allow storage of more information,” she said. “(Additionally) patient information like diagnoses, treatments, test results, imaging and medical history, is immediately accessible to clinicians providing care.”
Sally Heyer, True Care's Nurse Manager, also took part in the training. She sees other advantages to using an electronic medical records system.
“Patient safety will be increased because knowledge of their past history will be included in future visits,” Heyer stated. “Patient allergies, for example, will show up on every page of the chart, making staff aware.”
“Multiple staff members will be able to access a patient’s chart using a computer or tablet which will help with continuity of care at our center,” Winship added.
Dammann noted several challenges, primarily in preparing center staff for the change.
“Financial issues, including adoption and implementation costs (such as) purchasing and installing hardware and software” is one of the major hurdles, she said.
Other issues Dammann noted include converting paper charts to electronic, ongoing maintenance costs, and temporary loss of productivity as staff are learning and implementing the new system. The technology itself can also be a challenge, she said.
“The computer skills of (current) medical staff may present an obstacle to be overcome through appropriate training to bring everyone up to speed with current electronic medical records technology,” she said.
Heyer also sees some concerns, including loss of internet service and the possibility of computer hacking.
“Patient privacy is a huge concern and we are taking precautions to ensure we are HIPAA compliant to protect our patient’s data,” she said. “There are always little glitches that can happen with computers so we need to be ready just in case to bring the paper back out in an emergency.”
She also sees training of staff and volunteers as vital, but also a potential drawback, “especially for staff and volunteers that do not feel comfortable with tablets.”
“Making that shift from paper to electronic may feel hard to some people because it is such a huge change, and by nature we don’t like change,” Miller agreed.
Despite the challenges of switching from paper to electronic, center staff and volunteers may find another positive reason to do so.
“It will give us more time to spend either ministering to the patients or working on community awareness to draw more patients into the clinic,” said Miller.
ABC Women’s Clinic plans to implement their new system this month and True Care plans to go electronic within the first quarter of 2016.
Dammann foresees more pregnancy medical centers moving from paper to electronic systems, especially a system designed for PMC work.
“Many centers have adopted electronic records with systems created specific to pregnancy centers and the medical records is a component of these systems,” Dammann said. “Electronic health records are becoming the realm of recognized standard of care. Because PMC's operate with a high level of professionalism and quality care, it is fitting for patients to anticipate electronic health records in the pregnancy clinic if they are knowledgeable about such matters.”