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Healthcare giant launches $1.2 billion electronic records consolidation effort

Doctors Seek Higher Fees From Health InsurersDoctors Seek Higher Fees From Health Insurers

Partners HealthCare, a massive Boston-area hospital network, is consolidating its many electronic health records systems so every patient is associated with a single set of data across all specialties and facilities. Implementation of the new system, by Epic Systems, will cost an estimated $1.2 billion, according to the Boston Globe.

That’s a lot of money for a huge job: Partners has been buying up hospitals and practices at a pretty good clip over the last decade. Member hospitals include Brigham & Women’s, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, McLean Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, the North Shore Hospital and others.

Many hospitals see a single record as the holy grail because a clinician can access everything about that patient in one place. As things stood up to this week, a person might have a primary physician in the Partners system (say affiliated with Brigham & Women’s) and get tests done in another Brigham-affiliated practice, but not be absolutely guaranteed that her test results would make it back to her primary care physician. That’s the sort of snafu that the move to single health records across the network is meant to end.

But implementing Epic or a similar system is often a fraught and complex project. Doctors and medical staff are supposed to focus on patient care, not information technology. Many resist changes to their processes and procedures in culture clashes that can amplify the complexity of these electronic medical record (EMR) rollouts, often called “go lives.”

The overarching goal of automation is to improve patient care and cut costs, but the jury is out on the latter point. As Dr. Paul Hattis, professor at Tufts University School of Medicine professor and a member of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission told the Globe, costs will be born by insurers and the insured. “We will ultimately all pay for it,” he said. (Tufts is not a member of the Partners’ group.)

In an email sent this weekend to Partners patients, the consolidation of records began May 30 for Brigham & Women’s hospital, Faulkner Hospital and Dana-Farber. “Additional Partners hospitals and affiliated physician practices will join this effort every few months through 2017,” the message said.