The doctors and staff at the River Falls, Ellsworth and Spring Valley Medical Clinics are at the forefront of the nation’s move to Electronic Health Records (EHR).

Dr. Tashjian and Dr. Steinmetz of the River Falls and Ellsworth Medical Clinics were among the first 30 physicians in the nation to verify to the federal government on April 18 that they are using electronic records in a meaningful way.

To receive federal incentive funding, Medicare and Medicaid eligible professionals have to demonstrate they are using certified EHR technology in ways that can be measured significantly in quality patient care.

We eagerly jumped on board and made it our own personal goal to be prepared to “push the button” on April 18, 2011 – as one of the very first physicians in the country to be “Meaningful Use” certified. We’re happy to report, two of our physicians were in the top 30 in the nation to attest,” Tashjian said.

Since then, five more physicians have achieved that standard, including Drs. Torgersen, Miller, Johnson, Wilhelm and Zimmerman. The remaining physicians are expected to do so by the end of July.

“From day one of our electronic health record implementation, we made it a priority to utilize our EHR solution to its full extent to benefit the care we deliver to our patients and to enhance our workflow. When the government published the meaningful use requirements, our staff was quick to note that we were already well on our way to attestation as our practice was already aligned with many of the meaningful use principles. We knew the proposed meaningful use criteria would help us to better utilize our EHR and to meet our goals of enhancing the care and delivery to our patients. We also understood that we needed to be able to measurably demonstrate that we are able to provide better care to our patients via this technology and process,” said Dr. Chris Tashjian, President of the River Falls Medical Clinic.

Patients began noticing the switch to electronic records over a year ago when doctors started entering data from examinations into computers that were installed in the patient exam rooms. Instead of paging through a thick folder of charts to review a patient’s health information, the physicians call up the record and health history on the computer.

“Instead of checking boxes on a paper form and later dictating notes for a medical transcriptionist to type, doctors began entering the data while the patient is still in the exam room,” said Dr. Greg Miller, one of the family medicine doctors at RFMC.  “Our goal is to have all of the documentation done by the time the patient leaves the clinic.”

“We can review the patient’s vital signs and medications, check for allergies, order a lab test, review test results, view X-rays and radiologist reports or send a prescription to a pharmacy electronically,” said Dr. David Wilhelm of the Spring Valley Medical Clinic. The computer will flash an alert if the prescribed medication may cause an allergic reaction or interact negatively with another medication the patient is on.

The biggest benefit to having completed the transition to electronic clinical documentation is the ability to provide patients with notes, vital signs, prescriptions and other information as they are checking out. This has proven particularly valuable for two segments of the clinics’ population — the elderly, who now have up-to-date information to provide to caregivers, and to new mothers, who now have a legible record of their baby’s height and weight. “It becomes part of the baby book,” said Dr. Carrie Torgersen, one of the first female physicians to attest to meaningful use.

Two or more doctors can access the same patient’s records at the same time, and communicate electronically about what they see.

“The electronic health record is a tool to help us increase our quality care, become more efficient and be environmentally conscious,” said Dr. Tim Steinmetz.

Physicians can also access the patient’s health record from any computer that has a secured internet connection.

 

Motivation

The impetus to switch to electronic health records came from a series of regulations adopted by the federal government. The regulations require all providers and hospitals to make the change over a period of time in order to receive full payment for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Tashjian said the financial incentive was only part of the reason River Falls went ahead with the move to electronic records. He’s excited about the system’s potential to improve the quality of patient care.

“There is a cost to move from a paper chart to an electronic record,” said Tashjian.  The physicians at the River Falls Medical Clinic felt it was vital to both patient care and to compete and continue to recruit top medical professionals.

“We felt if we did not have an EHR, we were at a serious disadvantage, said Tashjian. “More than 70% of the physicians in our area have gone electronic– we had to stay up-to-date. Patients in our service area want to see a physician who has embraced technology and made the commitment to enhance patient care and safety; they want a physician who is moving forward with technology, not one who is still using paper when a better option is available.

In the near future, patients will even be able to see a portion of their health records from a patient portal from home.

The doctors from the WWMA River Falls, Ellsworth and Spring Valley Medical Clinics who were among the first in the nation to adopt meaningful use of electronic health records were:

Dr. Carrie Torgersen, Dr. Tim Steinmetz, Dr. Chris Tashjian, Dr. David Wilhelm, Dr. Greg Miller, Dr. Bob Johnson, and Dr. Dan Zimmerman.

 

Western Wisconsin Medical Associates (WWMA) serves patients in Ellsworth, Hudson, New Richmond, River Falls and Spring Valley, Wisconsin.