The University of Colorado Health is the latest recipient of HIMSS Analytics’ coveted Stage 7 award in recognition of the healthcare organization’s implementation and utilization of electronic health records.

The integrated EHR enables both patients and providers to share a comprehensive picture of the care being delivered and received across all UCHealth care settings, says UCHealth’s CIO Steve Hess. In addition, the system is able to leverage increasingly advanced functionality, including infusion pump integration, population health analytics, and online patient engagement capabilities, such as OpenNotes and telemedicine.

However, UCHealth plans to use its IT platform as a springboard to achieve more patient care capabilities.

“We’ve always looked at implementing electronic health records as a means to an end,” says Hess, who is responsible for the management of information systems across the enterprise, including its Epic EHR system and My Health Connection patient portal. “We’re now at a point where we’re able to use the foundation to actually make some really dramatic changes in the way we deliver care, such as telehealth, population health, clinical decision support and advanced predictive analytics.”

“We’re starting to use the data and the tools to make changes in process,” he adds.

UCHealth has been on its Stage 7 journey since 2011, when the organization first implemented its EHR at one of its hospitals, followed by implementations of the records system at all of UCHealth’s facilities. “Overnight, we essentially tripled in size,” he says. “Frankly, it’s an amazing amount of work that has been done. We knew if we didn’t integrate the IT systems, it would be difficult to create economies of scale and get physician groups to collaborate.”

Hess relates that, in 2012, three large health organizations—one academic medical center and two community health systems—came together to form UCHealth. “Starting in 2013, we essentially combined everybody on to the same Epic EHR,” he says. “So we moved from MEDITECH, Allscripts, Cerner and McKesson to Epic. In a little less than two years, we were all consolidated.”

HIMSS Analytics recently announced that UCHealth, which includes five hospitals and numerous clinic locations throughout Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska, had received the acute care EMRAM Stage 7 Validation, and its 202 outpatient facilities have been recognized with the HIMSS O-EMRAM Stage 7 Outpatient Validation.

“UCHealth is an innovative organization. Their aggressive telemedicine program, including Telestroke and a Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit, is unique and demonstrates their willingness to innovate around their IT infrastructure and applications,” said John Daniels, global vice president of the healthcare advisory services group at HIMSS Analytics.

According to HIMSS Analytics, just 4.3 percent of the more than 5,000 hospitals during the first quarter of 2016 received the Stage 7 Validation, and only 8.1 percent of the more than 37,000 outpatient clinics received the Stage 7 Outpatient Validation.

“We actively pursued this designation. It’s not something that just happens by accident,” says Hess. “We look at HIMSS Analytics as a proxy for the maturity of our informatics and IT solutions, and how well the organization has adopted the technology that has been implemented. Meaningful Use is one measure and HIMSS Analytics is another.”

As a result, he believes that UCHealth is well positioned to tackle the challenges of value-based care as the healthcare industry moves away from the fee-for-service payment environment.

“There’s a ton of heavy lifting to do yet,” Hess acknowledges, noting that “we have one foot in fee-for-service and one foot in the value-based world.”

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