Penn Medicine Says It Won't Wait for Industry to Improve EHRs

Jared Kaltwasser
NOVEMBER 19, 2018
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Can health systems develop EHRs?

Penn Medicine wants to give patients and healthcare providers a better electronic health record (EHR) — and it’s not waiting around for software companies to make that happen.

Last month, Penn Medicine announced a new EHR transformation initiative, which officials hope will finally evolve the EHR from a digital version of a paper record into a high-value clinical tool. Penn Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the university’s Perelman School of Medicine.

>> LISTEN: The Slow, Frustrating Rise of the Electronic Health Record

David Asch, M.D., MBA, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, told Healthcare Analytics News that hospitals have long recognized that top-notch care relies on top-notch staff, as well as the best imaging equipment, surgical instruments and medications.

“More recently, we have recognized that we need to add information systems to this list,” Asch said. “We see information systems as tools whose primary purpose has shifted from the administrative needs of documentation and billing to the clinical needs of providing the best patient care.”

At the heart of the initiative is the idea that EHRs can and should play a central role in healthcare delivery, rather than a peripheral — or even detrimental — role. In a press release announcing the initiative, University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Ralph W. Muller, M.A., said the goal of the effort is to rebuild the EHR from the ground up, focusing on the needs of clinicians and patients.

A number of surveys have suggested that many physicians see EHRs as a source of stress and extra work and a contributor to burnout.

The Penn initiative began with a contest to generate the best targets for EHR transformation. More than 200 ideas were submitted, and they are currently being reviewed by a challenge committee. At the same time, Penn Medicine is forming teams that pair clinicians with data scientists and IT experts to develop, test and refine improvements. The entire development and implementation process will happen in house, Asch said.

“As an academic medical center, we aim to lead in all areas that advance clinical care — not just in the provision of care to patients today, but also in the development of new science and new technologies and in the education and training of the clinicians and leaders who will deploy that new science and technology to patients in the future,” Asch said.

In fact, Asch doesn’t believe in the paradigm that technology must start in the tech sector and then migrate to the healthcare industry. He believes the future of healthcare innovation will begin and end in the clinic, adding that academic medical centers like Penn Medicine are best positioned to prove the theory.

“Academic medical centers will always be ahead of the big EHR firms,” he said. “The leading academic centers are populated by passionate and innovative clinicians who are transforming care at the frontiers of delivery, and they are always identifying new needs and opportunities. Innovation like this doesn’t happen in a software laboratory. It happens right next to the patients.”

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