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Rice Hospital, ACMC Health to Merge for Epic Implementation

The organizations are set to form a nonprofit health system to enable a smooth transition during the Epic implementation.

Epic EHR

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Minnesota-based Rice Memorial Hospital and ACMC Health recently approved plans to create a nonprofit health system called Carris Health in an effort to allow the hospital and participating physicians to implement and use Epic EHR.

ACMC Health — a large group of regional physicians — and doctors at Rice Hospital in Willmar signed off on an agreement to form a nonprofit health system that would be a subsidiary of CentraCare Health in St. Cloud. CentraCare Health is a collaborative, not-for-profit network that also includes facilities in Long Prairie, Melrose, Paynesville, and Sauk Centre.

The new nonprofit health system comprised of ACMC Health and Rice Hospital will be called Carris Health. The agreement includes a $32 million commitment from Carris Health to improve hospital infrastructure at Rice Hospital over the next 10 years.

As part of the agreement, physicians at Carris Health will transition from using several EHR systems to a single Epic EHR. The Epic implementation will improve standardization for ACMC and Rice Hospital physicians to enable a higher quality of patient care and improve clinical efficiency.

"Right now, there are different electronic health records, so there's duplication of record keeping and inaccuracies of record keeping," CentraCare Chief Executive Ken Holman, MD told StarTribune. "There is not much standardization of care and we all know that standardization of appropriate care — right place, right time — is really important."

Some concerns linger about whether the merger will result in higher costs for patients and payers. According to Holmen, the merger is not intended to extract bigger payments health insurers.

"Our board is a regional board, they're a community board," said Holmen. "It's made up of local business people. They're concerned about the cost of health care just like any citizen would be, or any patient."

CentraCare is currently one of the 10 largest health systems in the state. The health system includes six hospitals and 30 clinics in central Minnesota, as well as 314 physicians and 115 advanced practice providers.

"Under the agreement, Rice Memorial Hospital assets will continue to be owned by the city of Willmar and retain its name," stated ACMC Health and Rice Memorial in a joint statement. "The organization's 1,321 staff and physicians will become employees of Carris Health."

ACMC Health includes 180 physicians at 10 clinics and two surgery centers.

“This is an exciting opportunity for ACMC Health,” said President and CEO of ACMC Health Cindy Firkins Smith, MD. “To be part of Carris Health will provide opportunities to create innovative approaches to care for people in this region.”

The agreement is set to be finalized in early 2018. Integration between the two existing organizations will start immediately and continue over several months.

“Carris Health is a new entity that values collaboration between partner organizations to share expertise and resources to ultimately keep patient care local,” stated the healthcare organizations.

Rice Hospital and ACMC Health stated the goals of Carris Health will be to enhance the quality of patient care, improve population health management for patients in the region, and reduce the cost of care.

Rice Hospital was one of only six Minnesota hospitals earning an annual revenue of about $100 million or more independently of other health systems.

Mergers are becoming more common as hospitals contend with increasingly expensive health IT, rapidly evolving technology, and burdensome federal regulations. Rising expectations for health data exchange and interoperability have spurred consolidation for health information exchanges (HIEs) and interoperability services networks.

The New England Health Exchange Network (NEHEN) has faced its own challenges in attempting to stay independent as a niche HIE in a rapidly consolidating industry.

“We’re seeing more and more consolidation in the industry,” said NEHEN Executive Director Dave Delano. “NEHEN and other niche HIEs are being normalized out of the equation by exchange communities like CommonWell. We have questions about the long-term viability of a model like NEHEN, if people continue to move toward these larger consolidated networks.”

While consolidation may negatively affect a hospital’s independence, the move could enable increased standardization and allow for more efficient utilization of resources.

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