December 11, 2023

GHC will become a member of the Atlas Alliance network, a group of other health-service providers that also use EPIC system

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Plugging into a new version of its electronic medical records system will provide a healthy means of modernizing that component of its services, Group Health Centre says.

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The upgrade, beginning Monday, will see GHC move from the 2014 version of EPIC it now uses to the most recent version, EPIC 2021. As part of the upgrade, GHC will become a member of the Atlas Alliance network, a group of other health-service providers that also use EPIC as their EMR system. This shared hospital information system is hosted through The Ottawa Hospital.

“It’s like a shared service model,” GHC communications manager Giordan Zin told the Sault Star Thursday. “So, instead of going in on our own, we’re able to buy in and save money that way.”

As part of this shared health information system, each member will have secure real-time access to patient medical information, allowing health-care providers to make “timely, informed” decisions based on the “most comprehensive and connected” information, Zin said.

“It’s flashier, it’s nicer, it’s a better upgraded system,” he added. “So, it’s just getting people used to the new system. As far as the member side, there really shouldn’t be any impact, beyond the process taking a little bit longer for registration and stuff like that.”

While the centre explored all available possibilities for a shared hospital information system, the closest option that offered the EPIC EMR was the Atlas Alliance.

“This requirement was important because if GHC had joined a system that wasn’t using EPIC, it would have required a considerable investment of additional time and resources to transition our health records to a different system,” said Tony Barone, GHC’s vice-president of finance.

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The Atlas Alliance consists of health-care organizations from across Eastern Ontario, including The Ottawa Hospital, The University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Hawkesbury & District General Hospital, St. Francis Memorial Hospital, and Renfrew Victoria Hospital.

The EPIC system cost around $8 million in 2014. With joining the consortium and getting on a shared service model, the upgrade will ring in some $1.9 million, Zin said.

“Our current system, it’s an on-premise hosted system, meaning we’re doing the software updates, we’re doing all the trouble-shooting, we’re doing all of that stuff,” he added. “Where, with the shared service model, we’re sharing those costs with the other organizations. So that’s where the efficiencies are coming in.”

No jobs will be affected by the move, Zin said.

Sault Area Hospital is not a member of the Atlas Alliance but, as part of the upgrade to EPIC 2021, GHC will use the application EPIC Care Link, which allows for the instant sharing of patient information regardless of what EMR system is being used.

Over the next few weeks, while GHC staff become accustomed to the new system, it is anticipated that some processes could take longer than usual.

Zin said the upgrade shouldn’t present any “challenges” to members and not affect medical procedures.

“This is more of a behind-the-scenes upgrade,” he added. “Some processes may take a little longer to complete than normal, but we only anticipate this will last for a week or two while staff become accustomed to the upgraded system.”

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Some 70,000 GHC rostered patients are looked after by 80 primary and specialty care physicians, 11 nurse practitioners, more than 100 nurses and 30-plus allied health professionals.

With this new upgrade, GHC says it is also taking steps to bring its registration process more in line with other Ontario health-care facilities. Starting Monday, it will require patients to present their valid health card at each visit, as the card is needed to collect payment for services from the Ministry of Health.

“Before this change, if a patient forgot to bring their health card or the number had expired, GHC would have to spend additional time and resources getting in contact with the patient to get a valid health insurance number,” the centre said in a release.

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