CONWAY — One year ago, White Mountain Community Health Center began the process of upgrading to electronic medical records. Electronic medical record systems are a standard best practice in medical offices today. These systems are extremely expensive and require extensive training, as well as a large learning curve for staff and providers, but the benefit to patient care is significant.
The Kendall C. and Anna Ham Foundation made it possible for the health center to purchase the initial system with a $60,000 grant in 2014, and has made it possible to make some necessary computer upgrades and obtain additional computer support through an additional $6,380 grant this year. The Pequawket Foundation also made initial computer upgrades possible through a grant of $1,550. Training for the health center's 30 staff members was paid for through grants of $20,000 from the Endowment for Health and $17,000 from the Cogswell Benevolent Trust.
Operations support from local foundations was also essential when staff were learning the new system. White Mountain Community Health Center received operations grants from the Robert and Dorothy Goldberg Charitable Foundation, the Clarence E. Mulford Foundation and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which helped support the health center through this necessary period of lower productivity.
Health center staff say that the benefits of the new system are already apparent. Operations Director Julie Everett Hill, RN, explained that the health center is now able to analyze patient health trends on a practice-wide level. For example, one important measure of how well the health center is doing at improving patient health is practice-wide hypertension (high blood pressure) control. Providers are able to help many patients lower their blood pressure through changes in diet, exercise and/or medication.
Unlike with paper charts, with the new electronic medical record system Hill can click a few buttons and see a graph of how many of the health center's hypertension patients have their blood pressure under control. The health center can now compare this health indicator with state and national standards. When the health center tries a new method to control hypertension or other health indices, the method's effectiveness can easily be evaluated over time and adapted in response. The ability to evaluate a program's effectiveness also makes it possible for the health center to participate in cutting-edge health improvement programs, such as universal substance abuse screening.
The electronic medical record system is also making it easier to for medical staff to analyze individual patient health trends and ensure they're staying on track. Lab results flow directly into patient charts, where providers can see them instantly next to past results and other health indices.
The system also makes information retrieval and communication quicker and clearer. Zoe Weisenkail, RN, explained that if a patient is in the emergency room and the provider calls the health center for a current list of medications, Weisenkail can now send the information to them with just a few clicks. Immunization records, pharmacy refills, health insurance prior authorizations, referrals, and lab results are all transferred more quickly, and the information is clearer and easier to use.
Health center staff are still discovering new tools and tricks in the new system that improve patient care every day. The system will become increasingly useful as more data is entered over time, showing patient health trends over a longer period.
"White Mountain Community Health Center deeply appreciates the support of all of the local and regional foundations that made this significant and vital upgrade possible," said a press release.
White Mountain Community Health Center provides comprehensive, high-quality primary care services and health education on a sustainable basis to women, men and children in the Mount Washington Valley community regardless of ability to pay. More information is available at www.whitemountainhealth.org, or by calling (603) 447-8900.
The Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation welcomes grant requests from Mount Washington Valley, Fryeburg and Bridgton, Maine, area non-profit organizations. The foundation does not consider more than one proposal from the same organization within a 12-month period. Grants are not made for annual operating support.
For information on the grant process, contact Bob Murphy at the Ham Charitable Foundation, PO Box 2853, North Conway, NH 03860, or telephone (603) 356-3389 or go to www.hamcharitablefoundation.org. Applications for the next grant cycle must be received no later than Jan. 31, 2016.