Technology in transition

Medsphere helps hospitals get on track
with electronic health records

Healthcare is a hot topic these days with the passage of the stimulus bill which includes provisions to create a new information technology standard to improve medical care nationwide.

As part of the package, the federal government is earmarking $19 billion to help hospitals and medical providers cover the cost of transferring information to the now-required electronic health records, or EHRs. For hospitals to qualify for a slice of those federal funds, from $2 million to $4 million, they must have their EHR system in place by 2012.

Carlsbad-based Medsphere Systems Corp. plans to be part of this fast-tracked technology, offering hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices a way to put away the paper and adopt electronic health records.

About 85 percent of hospitals do not have an EHR system, according to Michael Doyle, president and CEO of Medsphere.

The difference between a hospital with an EHR system and one without is the avoiding what is referred to as “never events,” said Rick Jung, chief operations officer at Medsphere. These are events that never should happen, such as secondary infections that can increase a patient’s recovery time, or medications given mistakenly or in the wrong dosage.

Midland Memorial Hospital in Texas implemented Medsphere’s OpenVista EHR software in 2006. A recent independent case study revealed the hospital has improved its patient care, resulting in fewer deaths, medical errors and decreased infection rates since using the system.

While improving patient care is the primary goal of healthcare reform, security and privacy issues in regards to EHRs are also taking center stage. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 set federal standards on keeping a patient’s medical records private. The new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has increased those safeguards to ensure privacy in a brave new e-health world.

“It won’t work in building an infrastructure if privacy concerns and lack of trust holds us back,” said Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, DC. “We are pleased with the provisions that did end up in the legislation,” including civil monetary fines in cases of willful neglect of the law.

Over the past seven years, Medsphere has been marketing its open source software package, OpenVista, which was adopted from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The VA developed their electronic medical records software over the past 20 years with $8 billion invested in making it viable.

According to Doyle, Medsphere’s OpenVista software has safeguards built in from the VA’s use of this system over the past 15 to 20 years. “The VA was careful about patient confidentiality,” he said.

“People realize if you don’t have security privacy measures in place, you are eliminated from the discussion group,” Doyle added.

Anyone can access the VA software for free, Doyle said. It is available online and in a CD format. Medsphere supplies the additional technologies necessary to implement the software. The company charges a quarterly subscription fee, which includes training, system monitoring, upgrades and support, in an effort to reduce the upfront costs.

Doyle said OpenVista costs one-fifth to one-tenth of what other providers charge. He cited the example of West Virginia Health and Human Resources, which spent $9 million over five years on OpenVista to operate in all their state run healthcare facilities. In comparison, West Virginia University Hospital recently announced a $90 million contract with Epic Systems Corporation, a proprietary EHR software company.

Medsphere has 212 entities across the United States who use their open-source software system, from large hospital systems, such as Indian Health Services, to small clinics.

Because of the anticipated demand for this product in the next several years, the Medsphere team is currently hiring. With 72 employees across the medical spectrum – physicians, nurses, pharmacists, radiologists, marketing and sales - Medsphere is poised to fill the gap in keeping healthcare costs down, Doyle said. 

We are looking for people who have a mission to improve healthcare,” he said.