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Catholic Health to invest $135 million in new health records system

Catholic Health System will devote $135 million to launching a new electronic health records system, aimed at giving patients and health care providers a more efficient, user-friendly way to track patient care.

Catholic Health said the investment, the largest in its history, will also involve a partnership with Canisius College, exposing students to future career options and possibly internships on the project.

Designing, building and testing the new system is expected to take 18 months, culminating in a launch scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020, said Mark Sullivan, Catholic Health's president and CEO. "It's a transformation of Catholic Health as a whole," he said.

Catholic Health already uses electronic health records, but is switching to technology provided by Epic Systems Corp., which is used by top-ranked hospitals and medical schools around the country. "The reason we chose Epic is, we wanted to be in the same room, if you will, as top health care providers in the country," Sullivan said.

To build and test its new electronic health records system, Catholic Health will lease over 20,000 square feet of space on the third floor of Canisius College's Science Hall at 1901 Main St. A team of more than 150 people will work on building the electronic system, a mix of personnel from Catholic Health and Epic. The team will include about 40 new people whom Catholic Health will hire for the project.

Sullivan said the new electronic health records system, once launched, will benefit patients by bringing together different details about their health into one record.

"Many decisions in health care are made based on snapshots of data," Sullivan said. "You go to your doctor, they have a snapshot of this data. You go to a hospital, they have a snapshot of this data. By us implementing Epic, we'll be able to have that story of the patient. We'll be able to understand all the intricacies of what may have caused this, as long as those providers are tied in with us."

Doctors and health care providers will benefit in a similar way, by giving them a complete picture of a patient's treatment and health history, Sullivan said. And with all of the data stored on a single platform – instead drawn from multiple platforms, as Catholic Health's system is now – in one record, the information will be easier to access.

"From a patient perspective, they don't have to repeat ad nauseam their demographic or clinical history to providers they may encounter," said Dr. Michael Galang, Catholic Health's chief information officer.

John Hurley, president of Canisius College, said the partnership with Catholic Health will put "a world-class project right in our midst." Catholic Health will develop the electronic system in the same building where students study subjects including mathematics and statistics, computer science and data analytics, he said.

Hurley said the project not only brings a prominent tenant into a campus building, but also exposes students to emerging career options.

"We're constantly looking for internship opportunities for our students," Hurley said. "Right now, the most difficult discussion I have with parents is, 'Will my kid get a job?' Some of our faculty get concerned that a college education has become too vocational. I don't really look at it like that. I just think, people want to know at the end of the day, is there a payoff for this investment in this education.

"Everything we can do to increase opportunities that our students will be employed in where the economy and where different industries is going is a plus for us," Hurley said. For example, the on-campus interactions might also include "lunch and learn" sessions between students and members of the team building the electronic health records system.

Health care systems have embraced electronic health records as a better way to track patient care and information.

Kaleida Health is in the midst of implementing its own new, $125 million system with a different company, called Cerner. Its system will also create a single patient record, said Dr. David Hughes, chief medical officer.

Kaleida is in year two of its implementation process, Hughes said. All of its hospitals will be upgraded to the system by the end of this year, and by next year, the project will move on to its physician and ambulatory partners.

“By connecting our hospitals with the community physicians and ambulatory sites we will continue to improve quality and efficiency for our patients," Hughes said. "In short, we can manage patient care much better."

HealtheLink, a regional system for sharing health information electronically among hospitals and doctors, has a relationship with Catholic Health and doesn't expect that relationship to change because of the switch to the Epic system, said Daniel Porreca, the executive director.

"We're connected to them, we deliver data to them, they deliver data to us," Porreca said. "The point of HealtheLink is doctors, wherever a patient is seen, have the information they need."

"We are kind of the glue for the community that enables the data to flow back to where it's needed," regardless of where patients receive care, Porreca said.

Catholic Health started looking into adopting a new electronic health record system in 2015, after the provider of its current system was bought out, Galang, Catholic Health's chief information officer, said. Catholic Health chose Epic as the replacement system because of its technological capability, its wide use among leading health care institutions, and the overwhelming preference expressed by Catholic Health employees, he said.

"It really gives us the opportunity to standardize our processes across what we do, from clinical to operational," Galang said. "The technology is just a tool to help augment or supplement what we need to do in order to care for our patients better."

Epic will host Catholic Health's data system at its primary data center in Wisconsin, and at a backup data center in Minnesota, Galang said. "They have built their system to ensure that all of the patient data that goes back and forth between their data centers and our data centers are completely secure."

Epic hosts many other organizations' records systems, as well, Galang said. "It's not just us, it's a multitenant business, so it behooves them to ensure absolute security of that information."

The $135 million project cost will be covered by $20 million in proceeds from a state Department of Health grant, $64 million in tax-exempt bond funding, and $51 million in cash, said James Dunlop, Catholic Health's chief financial officer.

The full cost of the project includes the technology as well as all the resources devoted to bringing the health records system online in late 2020.

"There's a lot of pieces to this," Sullivan said. "You're talking about a $1 billion health system changing out its technology, from billing to every care point it has. So you have to keep the perspective of the size of the system, which is important."

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