Five years ago, Saint Francis Healthcare System launched its $43 million electronic medical records system, otherwise known as Epic, and its connected patient portal, MyChart.
At the time, Dr. Maryann Reese, then-executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the Southeast Missourian the rollout of Epic was the largest and most exciting project Saint Francis had completed outside of a major construction project. Reese, now-president and chief executive officer of Saint Francis, talked at the time about how the system was meant to make the hospital’s physicians and clinicians more successful in delivering excellent patient care and outcomes.
Recently, B Magazine spoke with Lara Thompson, system patient access manager at Saint Francis, and Edith Hickey, MD, family medicine physician at Saint Francis Clinic Poplar Bluff, about how it’s working and continuing to benefit patients.
Thompson, who has been with Saint Francis since 2012, said over the course of the last five years, the Healthcare System has improved its processes tremendously, having unleashed a number of upgrades and new features in the electronic medical records (EMR) system. But the big-ticket item — access to patient medical information in one system across the entire Saint Francis network — remains a core benefit.
“One of the main things with the EMR is we have it for the whole Healthcare System,” Thompson said. “No matter where a patient receives care within Saint Francis, every Saint Francis provider can see the same records. We’re not performing repeat lab testing or imaging studies for every patient encounter since it is all available in the patient’s electronic record.”
It saves time and money for patients, not to mention serving as an efficiency-driver for the doctors and other clinicians.
Above all, it helps with outcomes and how Saint Francis treats patients. Radiology is on the same system as primary care, which is on the same system as a specialist. So if the patient is treated by practitioners all using the Epic system, their health records remain available to all their doctors.
Hickey said she regularly tells her patients if they use a Saint Francis facility, she will be able to more easily track their care and answer questions.
“Their labs are there. Their X-rays are there. From a patient’s point of view, that is so handy and so useful. I know exactly what’s going on with them, and then I can explain further to help them better understand their results and their overall health.”
While patients treated at a Saint Francis or other Epic facility have their information automatically included in the electronic medical record, those who go to a provider that does not use Epic can have their data imported later to keep a more complete health record.
MyChart, the patient-facing side of Epic, has become a convenient tool for both practitioners and patients, Thompson said. Patients can schedule or cancel appointments, update demographics or insurance information and even update some clinical information.
One of the more popular features is the ability to ask your doctor a question through the app.
“In essence, it is like texting your doctor and asking any questions regarding new illnesses, medications, etc. I have quite a few patients who use it fairly regularly,” Hickey said. “I’m able to respond to them and advise them accordingly. It works out very nicely for them. Patients feel like they’ve got that connectivity to me into my office through the messaging system.”
If you’re going to a doctor’s appointment, there are functions that allow patients to check-in via the MyChart app. Medical records and lab results are available through the portal, the latter of which Hickey said is the fastest way to find out your results. Medical bills can be paid through the app. Payment plans can be set up, and you can apply for financial assistance.
On the healthcare side, the app serves as a reminder for any upcoming or overdue tests such as a mammogram or colonoscopy — things that if regularly completed can make a big difference in health outcomes.
Some of the new features to be released soon include open scheduling and virtual visits. With open scheduling, a new patient can directly set an appointment with a provider. This function is already available with direct scheduling for some Saint Francis providers and established patients. If already a patient of a provider, you can schedule an appointment through MyChart.
During the height of the pandemic, Saint Francis providers were using a variety of tools to provide virtual doctor visits. Soon, all Saint Francis providers will be using MyChart for virtual appointments as necessary.
Nothing replaces the doctor-patient relationship, but with technological advances, such as the Epic electronic medical record system and MyChart patient portal, patients are the beneficiary of better care, more efficient delivery of care and expanded access to care closer to home.