California hospital's implementation of open-source EHR bears watching

By the end of the year, Kern Medical Center, a county-owned 222-bed acute-care teaching hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., will have implemented Medsphere Systems’ OpenVista electronic health record. This deployment bears watching because it may become a trend in terms of providers adopting an open-source EHR.

For one, 2011 is the first year that providers can qualify for bonuses, or increased Medicare reimbursements, under ARRA. That’s shy of a year away from now. I think it’s virtually impossible to implement an EHR and derive meaningful use from it all within a year if you go the traditional, multi-million dollar, multi-year route. But KMC pointed out that the reason it chose OpenVista, which is the commercial version of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ VistA EHR, is for its ability to go live rapidly and its lower cost of implementation and maintenance.

In these tough economic times healthcare systems need to do more with less. KMC provides care for more than 16,000 inpatients annually, while its clinics provide care and services for more than 100,000 patients. Its emergency department handles some 43,000 visits per year. The data may be old (fiscal year 2001-2002), but they’re still relevant, especially for healthcare systems like KMC. Over the past three fiscal years prior to 2001-2002, the average daily patient census has increased. With nearly 75 percent of its patients either indigent or on Medi-Cal, KMC has to find ways to become more cost efficient in its delivery of care. On top of that, as a healthcare provider to county inmates and juvenile detainees the hospital system must also meet legal requirements for inmate and juvenile medical care. The KMC folks are banking on an open-source EHR to improve clinical outcomes in a cost-efficient manner.
What you’ll likely see in 2010 are resource-strapped healthcare systems that nonetheless believe in the clinical and financial benefits of health IT. The ARRA bonuses serve as an incentive to implement EHRs. The short timeline for qualification, however, is what will drive healthcare systems to choose EHRs that have a quick, inexpensive implementation.

The next step is achieving meaningful use. Stay tuned.