Change on the Horizon for Northwestern Clinics

Kate Martin | October 04, 2012

A major initiative is designed to improve the efficiency of clinical care and drive the introduction of a new model of collaborative, integrative patient care.

Northwestern is excited to announce a major initiative designed to greatly improve the efficiency of clinical care and customer service, as well as drive the introduction of a new model of collaborative, integrative patient care in our clinics. Under the umbrella Clinic Transformation Project, the effort is large in scope and has a lengthy timeline. However, much of the behind-the-scenes groundwork is already in progress. The leadership of Dr. Brad Finer, the newly-named Director of Clinical Services and Chief Clinical Officer, has been key to the progress to date. Also instrumental is the support of an outside firm, Stratis Health.

“This is an exciting time for the Northwestern clinics,” said Dr. Finer. “As we implement these changes, our patients will benefit; our clinicians will benefit; our students will benefit; and our staff will benefit. We’re counting on the support and participation of the Northwestern community to help make a smooth transition as we fully implement the new systems and care model.”

What is the clinic transformation project?

The clinic transformation project encompasses both the business side of the clinics as well as patient care. Through the project, Northwestern will be implementing state-of-the-art information systems technology for improving the quality, efficiency, safety, coordination, and integration of the patient care we deliver across all programs and providers. This will provide the technological foundation for a new coordinated and integrated model of care and best practices initiative in the clinics. The implemented technology includes an electronic health record and practice management system.

What is an electronic health record?

An electronic health record (EHR) is a collection of electronic health information about an individual patient. It provides patients, physicians and other health care providers electronic access to a patient's medical records across facilities, and tools that support clinical practice.

What is a practice management system?

A practice management system (PMS) essentially digitizes the “business” aspects of health care. It will help providers and staff to manage the scheduling, registration, visit notes, coding, billing, and other aspects of a patient visit.

Why is an electronic health record and practice management system important?

These are basic tools for modern-day practices that are vital to operating our clinics, ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of patient information, and educating our students. Key pieces of infrastructure for integrating our current disciplines, the EHR and PMS will enable us to transform our patient care delivery.

What’s been done so far?

An organizational structure is in place with 10 functional workgroups reporting to the Core Project Team. An Oversight Committee oversees the entire project.

The workgroups cover all aspects of the project, from information technology, training, communication, compliance, research and outcomes, as well as teams focused on implementing the EHR and PMS systems.

How long has the project been going on?

In 2011, substantial time and research went into selecting an EHR system. BackChart was selected as our EHR in the fall of 2011. Stratis Health was brought on board in May 2012 to help select a PMS system and to assist in implementing both major systems.

Who is Stratis Health?

Stratis Health has been providing Health IT consulting services for hospitals and clinics across Minnesota and other states since 2004. As the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) for Minnesota for the last 40 years, Stratis Health has always focused on improving the healthcare provided throughout Minnesota. Stratis health believes that the effective use of health-IT technology is a key tool in supporting healthcare ongoing quality improvements. Stratis Health is providing a project manager and senior leadership on the project, as well as extensive subject matter expertise.

Who are the key people working on the project?

  • Dr. Gert Bronfort, Vice President of Research at Northwestern, was the lead on selecting the EHR and has oversight of the overall clinic transformation project.
  • Dr. Brad Finer, Director of Clinical Services at Northwestern, has been involved since early 2012. He leads the Core Project Management Team, which oversees the work of all the project workgroups.
  • Bill Sonterre is the senior leader from Stratis Health.
  • Joe Kalaidis is the project manager from Stratis Health.
  • Robin Carlton, from Stratis Health, is a subject matter expert helping with EHR detail implementation planning.

What’s next?

The EHR pilot was recently completed, and implementation will be taking place September through November in all the clinics. The PMS is currently being evaluated and selected; and the plan is to have it implemented by the first quarter 2013.  

What is the duration of the project?

You may view the project timeline here. By the end of the first quarter 2013 both the EHR and PMS will be implemented. EHR improvements will be ongoing throughout the remainder of 2013 as well as implementing the EHR and PMS interface. Also ongoing is the continued development and enhancement of the collaborative and integrative care model and collaboration with the U of M.

What does this mean to me?

For students: We are committed to providing our students with excellence in education, and the EHR and PMS are important steps. Knowledge of these tools will add value to the education our students receive here, and give students a competitive advantage as they start in practice. Students will learn and use the most modern practice technology in their internships in our clinics.

For staff: Unless you are a staff member who works directly with the clinics, you may not see the changes directly. But you should know that this is a major investment the University is making in time and resources to bring our clinics up to date in current technology and best practices. There are numerous national and federal initiatives driving the adoption and use of EHR technologies as a means to support improved efficiency, quality and cost of healthcare. From an admissions standpoint, the clinical education opportunities offered at Northwestern are one thing that sets us apart from other institutions. This upgrade is necessary as a key component in providing the best health care education available.

For patients: Patients visiting our clinics will experience a new model of care that provides for the option of coordinated/integrative care, as well as a more efficient sharing of information between providers.

Northwestern clinicians and clinic staff are receiving frequent, direct communications from the clinic leadership. Significant time, attention and resources are being dedicated to staff communication and training to ensure a smooth transition for both staff and patients.


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