Federally qualified health centers have it rougher than most sites when it comes to implementing electronic health records. They tend to be even shorter than usual on cash, staff, and time. That’s why it’s worth coming to hear Davies Award winner Unity Health Care, Washington, talk about how it turned a failing implementation into one of the top HIT success stories of 2012.

“We see some of the worst outcomes and have some of the highest incidences of everything, and our population is often the last to get the latest, greatest stuff,” says Angela Duncan Diop, vice president of information systems. “We’re very excited that we can provide modern tools and technology for our patients.”

Diop will outline Unity Health Care’s rocky road to installing an EHR in its 30 sites, which included a delay of nine months and two postponed go-live dates. “We like to tell people our story because we spent almost a year failing, and we’re really proud that we turned it around.”

The success story started with shifting the leadership from the I.T. department to the very top of the organization. After the CEO and CFO started leading the change management process, they brought in a consultant to manage the project, because no one on the IT staff had had project management experience at the level needed. “We have 900 people using the system to care for close to 100,000 patients,” Diop says. “It’s not something you can manage on the back of a napkin.”

Diop says it was better to fail spectacularly than to barely succeed during the implementation process, because even if Unity had managed to go live under its original process, it wouldn’t have had the resources to keep the system going.  A solid planning process provided the basis for ongoing success. She will present three case studies on how the EHR has helped Unity with claims payment (liberating more than $1million), recognition as a patient-centered medical home, and improvement of smoking cessation services. She’ll talk about how the EHR implementation process has helped Unity standardize workflows and processes across sites, and has allowed it to repurpose business staff members for more skilled positions. And she’ll detail how the EHR has increased provider productivity and decreased no-show rates.

“It’s hard to demonstrate the profound change the EHR has had on our organization,” she says. “I can’t tell you how different we are today.”

Diop’s presentation, “Improving Health Care for the Underserved: A Davies Story,” is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on March 6.  



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