Benefits of Electronic Health Records in a Rural Critical Access Hospital
Sierra Vista Hospital is a twenty-five bed critical access hospital located in the rural city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Sierra Vista Hospital serves approximately 13,000 area residents. Working closely with the New Mexico Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center , Sierra Vista Hospital, which also provides primary care, outpatient behavioral health care, and community education programs, began implementing electronic health records (EHRs) in 2008. The hospital successfully achieved meaningful use in 2011.
Overcoming Skepticism About EHR Implementation
In 2008, when Sierra Vista Hospital first decided to implement an EHR system, the hospital's physicians and staff were initially skeptical. Many were not comfortable integrating computers into clinical practice and did not recognize how EHR implementation could help improve efficiencies and healthcare quality.
To help physicians and staff overcome this barrier and understand the benefits of EHRs, Sierra Vista Hospital launched a computer learning center. "We developed a computer learning center so physicians and staff could easily and efficiently complete technology learning modules. By educating our staff on how to use EHRs, we were able to convince our physicians and staff members that EHRs were a positive investment that would help them care for patients," said Domenica Rush, Chief Executive Officer of Sierra Vista Hospital.
Sierra Vista Hospital also leveraged EHR "super users" - staff trained to move through the EHR system quickly and share helpful hints, tips, and techniques with other users - to bridge the gap between clinical care and technology. Two super users, one clinical employee and one IT specialist, walked through the EHR with each of Sierra Vista Hospital's physicians to ensure each physician felt comfortable navigating the EHR and integrating the technology into clinical practice.
Benefits of Electronic Health Records: Better Relationships and Improved Healthcare Quality
Sierra Vista Hospital's EHR enables the hospital's physicians and staff to develop better relationships with patients. Domenica Rush explains, "When a patient visits our hospital, we are able to see the patient's record quickly and easily to understand their history." Armed with information about each patient's history, Sierra Vista Hospital's physicians and staff are better able to understand their patients' needs, communicate with patients, and develop relationships.
EHR implementation also helped Sierra Vista Hospital improve healthcare quality. The hospital attributes enhanced healthcare quality to being able to quickly and efficiently access accurate patient records. With records that are more complete, legible, and easily accessible, Sierra Vista Hospital's physicians and staff have seen "improved healthcare quality in all areas," said Domenica Rush. For example, as a small, rural critical access hospital, Sierra Vista Hospital frequently transfers patients to larger hospitals. Before EHR implementation, Sierra Vista Hospital used paper transfer forms to update larger hospitals on patient status, and the paper forms were often incomplete or difficult to read. Having comprehensive medical records readily available in crisis situations has improved the hospital's transfer process for both patients and providers.
Looking Forward to Continuous Improvement
To spread the benefits of EHRs to other rural areas in New Mexico, Sierra Vista Hospital recently invited representatives from seven rural hospitals to tour the facility, see the EHR in action, and learn from the hospital's experiences. Having seen the benefits of EHRs, Sierra Vista Hospital is committed to EHRs and is working towards attesting to Meaningful Use Stage 1 in the hospital's primary care and behavioral health clinics.